Deployed to Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) finds himself lost and wounded on the streets of Belfast, when a riot separates him from the rest of his unit.
Living in Ireland, it seems as though there have been countless movies about the political situation in Northern Ireland, but ’71 uses a fresh take to tell an old story; making the film feel more like a last stand movie mixed with a political thriller, than one about a religious conflict that turned bloody.
Jack O’Connell proves that his wonderful turn in Starred Up earlier this year was not a fluke, with his performance as a young soldier sent to Northern Ireland. O’Connell does not have a lot of dialogue, so conveys his characters emotions through body language and presence. He is magnetic on the screen, and manages to be a calm eye at the centre of a storm that blows up around him. While O’Connell is the centre of the film, he is supported by a great cast, including David Wilmot, Killian Scott, Richard Dormer and Martin McCann, who each give strong and convincing performances.
Written by playwright Gregory Burke, ’71 does have a few anachronistic details, but it manages to carefully draw the lines of the conflict in Northern Ireland, when it was at its height. Instead of spelling out information that the audience is aware of, we are dropped, with Gary Hook, into the centre of a religious and political conflict, and shown the true casualties of the violence of Northern Ireland; the people on the ground, be they civilians or soldiers brought in to fight a battle they have no real part in.
Directed Yann Demange, ’71 is a film filled with suspense, with the streets of Belfast seemingly labyrinthine, as Hook struggles to find his way out of the most dangerous areas of the city. Friend and foe switch places throughout the film, as loyalties rise and fall. Demange allows his characters and actors to be still and silent, allowing the tension in the film to build. There are times, however, when the pacing seems to slow to a crawl, with the film getting bogged down in conflict between individual people, rather than the bigger story.
’71 is a fresh look at a well worn conflict in Northern Ireland. Jack O’Connell continues his streak of strong and engaging performances, and the film is filled with an air of danger and mystery. The pacing struggles from time to time – usually when O’Connell is off screen – but ’71 is an engaging and fascinating watch.