'71 photo starrating-4stars.jpgBelfast 1971. It’s the height of the Northern Ireland conflict. But first, a little background for those unaware. The political war ran from 1968–1998. There’s the Loyalists, mostly Protestants, who want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Then there’s the Nationalists, a Catholic minority, who want to leave the UK and join a united Ireland. ’71 involves a particularly volatile area on Divis Street where the two warring communities live side by side. British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is dropped into the middle of the combat to keep the peace. I suppose if you’re from the UK this conflict needs no introduction, but for the majority of viewers, the lack of info will be a bit confusing. I suppose it’s fitting that we aren’t given any backstory as to what is going on here. Our hero is rerouted from Germany and sent with little knowledge as to what he’s truly getting himself into.

What ‘71 has going for it is tense excitement. The story concerns when Gary becomes separated from his unit during a riot and needs to find his way back. It is an intense journey that is interesting because we desperately hope our young soldier can stay alive. French-born director Yann Demange fashions a tale with stunning immediacy. Shot in part with hand-held cameras, ‘71 has an almost documentary like approach. The style has led some to make comparisons to director Paul Greengrass whose Bloody Sunday (2002) covered a similar topic. It’s not always clear who is on what side in ‘71. Even the Catholic Nationalists have their own internal quarrels with the IRA. It doesn’t help that there are two(?) double agents and they look alike right down to their facial hair. Their shifting loyalties fluctuate throughout the film. An offhand remark by one at the end still leaves one guy’s loyalty in doubt even after the movie ends. In fact both groups of fighting ethnic factions look remarkably similar.

The funny thing is, despite the lack of information, the details are not really important in ‘71. True, the absence of sense prevents those intimately familiar with the situation to totally comprehend what’s going on. The script doesn’t benefit from a coherent distillation of history. However the story succeeds as a tension filled, entertaining film. It’s the dramatic urgency that compels us to watch. With the hazy specifics, we make connections between this and other conflicts. I thought of the Iraq War. You might make other associations. The takeaway is that this is about a man on the run. He simply wants to navigate the streets and alleyways just to make it back to his barracks alive. Viewed from that perspective, this is an extremely exciting, well made thriller.


23 Responses to “’71”

  1. Sounds like another must-see for me! Nice work man.


  2. Good review Mark. It’s a very thrilling movie. However, the scope is a bit too large and it takes away from what could have been an effective, thrill-ride.


  3. I haven’t seen this yet, now added to my ever-growing to-watch list!


    • Director Yann Demange does a brilliant job at ratcheting up the tension so we experience what Jack O’Connell’s character is going through.


      • Sounds fab! I’d definitely recommend In the Name of the Father and Good Vibrations if you haven’t seen those already. Very different films, but set around The Troubles in Northern Ireland.


      • In the Name of the Father is a great film. Very powerful. I am unfamiliar with Good Vibrations however. I’ll look for it. Sounds like a biopic about The Beach Boys.


      • It does sound like a Beach Boys biopic, but is anything but. A film about music sure, however it’s a feelgood movie set in the darkest of times, I really enjoyed it.


      • I did a little research about it and realized I know absolutely nothing about the punk music scene of Northern Ireland. I will definitely check this out.


  4. I really enjoyed this. It was proper edge of your seat stuff.


  5. With his work in Starred Up and Unbroken last year demonstrating that O’Connell is a young actor ready to take the world by storm. Another strong performance.


  6. Even though I had a hard time understanding what they were saying, I really enjoyed this. It was pretty intense. So far I’ve liked 3 Jack O’Connell movies. He is definitely a star on the rise. 4 stars.


  7. Wow, ’71 sounds like a great film. I like hearing that it’s told with immediacy and focuses on this character’s journey rather than going too heavily into the backstory. The murky loyalties of the double agents also sounds like it adds a nice layer to the story as well. Adding it to my must-see list for this year.


  8. GaryGreg828 Says:

    Does Ben Mendelsohn slap him around in this one? 🙂

    Scott Derrickson tweeted that this was the best film of 2015, thus far. Looks like I will have to add it to my queue. Hypothetically, would you put it on your Jan-June 2015 top film list?


    • No but it’s very good.

      Ben Mendelsohn isn’t in this movie. Perhaps you’re thinking of Starred Up which they did make together.


      • GaryGreg828 Says:

        lol, I know. I was joking b/c Ben slapped him in Starred Up, and was joking he did the same in this one, too. lol.


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