Genre: Action, Drama, War
Directed by: Yann Demange
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris, Paul Anderson
The Troubles have always made for gripping and compelling source material. With its complex political hierarchy’s and allegiances, it’s a fascinating and terrifying part of the UK’s history. From the blisteringly stark and harsh realism of its setting, to the urgency and tense atmosphere, Yann Demange’s ’71 is a gripping cat and mouse thriller, played out on the war torn streets of Belfast.
Jack O’Connell stars as Gary Hook, a freshly trained and green recruit in the British army, whose inexperienced unit is deployed to assist with the peacekeeping efforts in Belfast at the height of the Troubles in 1971. During an extremely tense raid that quickly spirals out of control into a full blown riot, young Gary is accidentally abandoned and left behind by his unit, and soon finds himself alone, disorientated and hunted on the streets of Belfast. As night closes in, Gary’s situation becomes ever more desperate and conspiring forces soon close in around him.
Young Gary is not the kind of trigger-happy solider as seen in the likes of Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, but a naive young man, clearly out of his depth and far from home in a hostile land. Despite only having a few lines throughout, Jack O’Connell is faultless as Private Hook. A totally different role than his star making turn in David Mackenzie’s brutal Starred Up, O’Connell is no less brilliant here, proving once again that he is truly a star in the making, and one of the UK’s best and brightest young talents.
The action is stark, intense and urgent, with Belfast ’71 presented as this oppressive and bleak apocalyptic landscape. Demange stages the action brilliantly, building the tension and ever increasing seriousness of Gary’s predicament in a grip so tight, that it’s almost unnerving. Every person could be a threat, a bullet or a bomb around every corner, with Gary ever lost in a bizarre net of political allegiances and crossroads.
Writer Gregory Burke does a standout job of balancing the thriller aspects with the more political. Several subplots deal with the IRA’s wavering hierarchy, while Sean Harris’ undercover British agent is more foe than friend for Gary, with his own long term agenda in the making.
For a film that runs a little over an hour and a half, it manages to do a lot in the short space of time it has, but never once does it feel overwhelming or does one ever feel lost in the film’s various subplots and political machinations.
The plot occasionally feels a tad episodic, and some moments of the script fall on the heavily coincidental side, but you probably won’t care because you’ll be gripped to the edge of your seat during the film’s riveting set pieces that any flaws or dramatic plot coincidences in the script are easily forgiven.