Set in Belfast 1971 during the time known as “The Troubles” or the “Northen Ireland Conflict”a British soldier is separated from his regiment during a riot and is soon a target for both the IRA and the British army. Director Yann Demange crafts an impressive character driven thriller with tremendous historical relevance as the animosity between the British and Irish advance the danger.
Jack O’Connell plays Gary Hook, a newly minted private who is sent to Belfast on an emergency basis who finds himself fighting for his life the next day. O’Connell is fantastic, he doesn’t play it fearless, you can tell Hook is anxious the moment the situation gets rough. He isn’t a coward just a man who knows his limits, its the story of a private not a hardened veteran. At first Hook is just a target for the over zealous young members of the “Real IRA” who thinking gunning down British soldiers is a great offensive strategy. Later on when the film sheds light on the shady back door workings of the British that Gary inadvertently becomes witness to, he’s now fucked on either side.
Demange really nails down the tone and feel of 1970’s Belfast, fire bombed cars sit on the roads as if they were street signs everyone shouting slurs as the British. You get the essence of the war zone just through the location and when the film juxtaposes the civllian imagery with imagery of war it is very striking. Bombs go off, apartment flats become strong holds , teenagers becomes soldiers but the execution of this maintains the powerful reality of the film. Even if you aren’t very knowledgeable about this conflict ’71 has an authenticity the audience can trust.
Hook is in real danger and the film doesn’t let you forget it, terrifying adrenaline course through the sequences from the chases to the conversations. The audience like Hook doesn’t know who they can trust, worried if he speaks he’ll be shot. You have no idea how he is going to survive the night as it escalates against him. Supporting cast shine in that front, they bring the believability to the threat especially Sean Harris as the British captain. The civilians who interact with Hook are the film’s display of the collateral damage, how this conflict affects the people of Belfast. Corey McKinley as the young boy who finds Hook hiding is a standout of character, a spirited little creation who brings the levity to the dire advancement of plot.
’71 doesn’t lose any steam during its runtime, takes the right moments to slow down for the audience to catch up but then gets right back into it. A great unique take on showing the British – Irish conflict, its a story of survival not ideology. Bolstered by strong performance and compelling direction and cinematography ’71 is an unforgettable piece of historical cinema.