08th Mar2015

’71’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, Valene Kane, Martin McCann, Sam Hazeldine, Killian Scott, David Wilmot, Barry Keoghan | Written by Gregory Burke | Directed by Yann Demange


As a fan of history I always find myself interested in films like ’71 which look at the complicated issues surrounding Ireland.  Touching on these subjects though there is a certain level of tact required, especially with the fact that the British Government and their actions don’t exactly show them as being squeaky clean.  ’71 takes things to human level, thankfully free of any bias that could work its way into such work and is able to focus on the tale of a lost soldier.

When Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally abandoned by his unit on the streets of Belfast he soon finds himself lost in a labyrinth of streets where each encounter could be fatal.  With the IRA hunting him down and the British army doing their best to find him he finds himself in a battle for survival where it’s almost impossible to know who the friends and foes are, even on his own side.

Jack O’Connell has made quite an impact on the film world, especially with ’71, Starred Up and Unbroken.  In this role he goes somewhat against his normal role of overly aggressive thug and shows a softer side where emotions come more into play.  He may be a soldier but his character Gary Hook shows more sympathy for those around him and O’Connell is able to convey these emotions to the audience and make the role one that is believable to the audience.

The camerawork in ’71 makes the film feel almost documentary-like, especially in scenes where the impact of explosions need to be felt.  Often you see the camera move in a more human-like fashion struggling with the character to make its way from the ground, also managing to convey that feeling of disorientation that Hook is feeling.  With the setting of the film claustrophobic, keeping the camera close to O’Connell keeps the audience a part of the action, which at many times feels a little too realistic, it will test a few people’s stomachs.

This realism though does have its purpose with director Yann Demange’s aim is to show the reality of the situation the character is in, not just create another action movie that cold dumb down such a sensitive subject.  This leads to some heart-breaking scenes, especially when you start to care for characters that are have been fleshed out and well written.  There is never a moment that you feel disassociated from what you are seeing on the screen, and there is no waste of the talent at work.

Along with O’Connell who really is good in this movie there is an ensemble cast that are very impressive.  This includes people such as Sean Harris, who is one of those British actors that are always reliable when it comes to needing darker edge.  While a war rages on the streets of Belfast, it is impressive that within the chaos, the number of characters is fairly restricted, even if we feel like there are more people on the screen than actually are.  Intense and unforgiving, ’71 has moments that are truly impressive, especially in the first half where most of the intensity of the situation is built up.

When looking at ’71 it is fair to say that it is a film of two halves though.  While the first half does rely on the tense maneuverings through the dark streets and alleyways with the second half leading to a finale that pushes more towards action, while trying to preserve the intensity of the situation.  Though not as impressive as the first half, it is fair to say that the action is handled well and the tension the audience feels is impressively maintained, though the ending could have done with feeling a little tighter as all the plot strands fight to come together and create an ending that makes sense.

’71 impressed me because it’s a movie that takes a subject that could have come across as biased and managed to remove this element by creating a more humanised experience.  O’Connell’s character is a soldier on his first outing and he becomes lost on streets where he is an enemy, but also just a young man way out of his element.  The people on those streets aren’t demonised, and neither are the army but the harshness is successfully shown and that for me was important for the film to work.  Concentrating on the story of the one man, Jack O’Connell’s performance makes ‘71 a film that will remain memorable as a movie that showed just how good an actor he is becoming and how good British filmmaking can be.

***** 5/5

’71 is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from March 9th.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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