One of the most brutal wars comes to the screen and it does not involve the United States. In this film we get to see one day during the Irish Revolution between the Protestants and the Catholics. Most of us watched the news as the war dragged on for years, but up until now I haven’t seen a movie about the war so compelling as ’71. Not knowing what side to take in this fight shouldn’t matter here, it’s just the inhumanity that counts and the eerie gut wrenching window to survival for one man.
British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), one of many called into service to defend Northern Ireland with the Irish loyalists, has been ordered to go out on a patrol to the border that separates Northern Belfast from the South. He’s a new recruit and knows nothing about the political ramifications surrounding the conflict against the nationalists. All he knows is to follow orders. In any civil war, especially those fought without the enemy in uniform, the Britt’s (British) stick out like a sore thumb when on patrol. Their adversaries wear street clothes and can be any man, woman or child. This makes it complicated when you are attacked by an enemy mixed with innocents. The foe looks like you, talks with an Irish accent like the loyalists you are helping, but you are a sitting duck when it comes to a confrontation having to hesitate before shooting.
On this late afternoon the patrol reaches the border and runs into a blockade. Civilians start throwing rocks, urine filled bags, bottles and other things to pelt the loyalists and Britt’s that are standing outside their vehicles. During the riot that ensues Hook chases a boy who took a British Army rifle and gets separated by the crowd from his unit. Forced to flee into the interior of the city well south of the border, he finds himself in a Britt uniform, hurt and on the run for his life.
So begins a story of survival that will live long in my mind due to the gut-wrenching scenes of tension brought on by Hooks confusion, delirium and insurmountable challenges. He’s alone in an unfamiliar maze that’s about to swallow him whole. The acting, story line, directing and total production are extremely good.
Director Yann Demange spins his storyline introducing Hook in boot camp then bringing him nearly 900 miles to Northern Ireland where he inserts the young man in unfamiliar territory under the command of a loyalist army. Demange then turns Belfast into a city that’s been ravaged by war and filled with people frightened and rebellious. He introduces its strong willed people whose weapons are stones, bottles or anything they can get their hands on. Hidden beneath it all Demange introduces the heinous central command of the IRA that’s set up for terrorism tactics using homemade bombs. It’s a fierce situation between people who have hatred for one another stemming back to the Crusades.
Demange lays a deadly path for Hook to follow taking him through back alleys, IRA run Irish pubs, school cellars and then an apartment building. To make things tense he uses loud booming music with chilling tones giving the film a taut sinister feel. As Hook falls into assistance from loyalists, sympathizers and collaborators darkness starts to set in. Here Demange makes use of lowlight camera, special lenses and lighting to add the feel of dread and despair. To bring it down to a lethal low he adds even more obstacles that challenge Hooks total being to survive.
The cringing and disturbing ’71 has to be considered one of the most convincing movies this year. Standout performances by Jack O’Connell as Hook, Corey Mckinley as the young Irish kid who pushes around members of the IRA, and the rest of the fine cast add to this outstanding film. In addition, my hat is off to the camera and lighting crew who shot the difficult film. There were some shots that were nearly impossible to get, yet brilliance shows that even the most challenging scene can be made possible.
’71 has been rated R by the MPAA for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout. The film also contains minors drinking, brutality and a shocking scene of the aftermath an explosion. The Irish accents may be a little difficult at times, but it shouldn’t take away from the motion picture’s verbal intensity.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A suspense and action filled film that’s chilling. (A-)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris, Charlie Murphy, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Killian Scott
Directed by: Yann Demange
Genre: War, Drama, Foreign
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout
Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min
Release Date: March 27, 2015
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions