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Based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Anthropoid, the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich's third in command after Hitler and Himmler.
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A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a terrifying riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape.
Uses the setting well to create tension, but also struggles with the weight of it too
I will be honest and say that I generally am touchy about films using the sectarian terrorist organizations, the troubles, or other aspects of Northern Irish politics as a base for thrillers or films – mainly because when they do, they do so in a rather heavy-handed and thoughtless way such as The Devil's Own, The Jackal, or many other such films. So with '71 there is a certain odd feeling that uses the streets of Belfast in the early 1970's as a launching point for a thriller involving British soldiers, terrorists on both sides of the divide, the RUC, and civilians of the time. This is not only an odd feeling that I had, but it is also one that the film itself seems to be all too aware of.
To talk generally the film does provide some good tension, with its fast pace, shifting ground, and hand-held camera-work; when it is doing this it is fine – not perfect, but fine. The sense of being trapped between all sides is apparent, and with the stakes high it does move well with what it does. The need to have all the players be clear and be positioned does rather reduce the pace a bit, but what does limit the film a bit is, ultimately, the politics of it. So, for some of this it is not the film that does this but rather the viewer – I guess particularly if you are familiar with the Troubles then it is hard to detach your personal opinions from the drama, which can make some of it harder to get into. The bigger thing though is that the film itself is conscious of this being a real situation, and as such it does know it carries a certain weight with it compared to if it had created this story in a fictional situation.
The cast carry this weight too, although mostly they do play out their characters as a more straightforward thriller – which helps the film be just that. O'Connell, Harris, Dormer, and others all play solid roles in the thriller side, even if the weight of the politics stop them just being genre devices, or being too details as real people. The pacing and structure of the film is good, and mostly it does manage to present the city streets of the Belfast roadblocks and no-go areas as oppressive and ensnaring if you are on the wrong side of them.
So as a thriller it mostly does work well thanks to the shifting narrative, and pace of delivery, however it is a film that senses the weight of the real story that it is using for the purposes of the thriller, and this knowledge does make a difference across the delivery.
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