Director: Yann Demange Writer: Gregory Burke Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, David Wilmot, Charlie Murphy, Barry Keoghan, Sam Hazeldine
Jack O’Connell is about to be propelled into stardom. He’s having a moment – a moment of ‘Orange Bafta Newcomer’ winner proportions, and ’71 is at the forefront of what looks to be an interesting career.
In ’71, O’Connell plays Gary Hook, a young soldier in the British Army, deployed to Belfast during ‘The Troubles’ of 1971. In the course of a few days we follow Gary as he leaves his Derbyshire home and travels to Ireland; watch him and the other privates hold the firing line in a misguided raid that erupts in a riot, and subsequently separates him from his peers and into the dangerous streets of a predominantly Catholic militant area…As he desperately encounters natives on both sides of the war, in a series of horrific and thrilling action-packed scenes, the story also interweaves the shady deals and goings on between revered local Republican, Boyle (David Wilmot) and the ambiguous undercover British Army officers (led by Sean Harris and a sinister Sam Hazeldine in tow) who would rather Gary dead after he accidentally witnesses too much, threatening to undo their longstanding operation. But it’s the young rogue Catholic militants (Killian Scott, Martin McCann and Barry Keoghan) hunting Gary down – and they’re out for blood.
Aesthetically it’s gritty, handheld camera shots, location and period will undoubtedly draw comparisons to ‘Bloody Sunday’ by Paul Greengrass. But save for the theatrical riot scene, this film is all action. French director, Demange’s film is relentless and sometimes harsh. There are moments of sheer heartless mishaps, that there’s barely time to catch breath before Gary’s limping round another decrepit brick wall. He stumbles upon a foul-mouthed prickly Protestant boy, who offers to take him back to the barracks. He is later taken in by a Catholic father and daughter, all seems relatively well – maybe there’s a chance of romance – but with the extremists informants all about, he’s soon on the move again – bringing the films last chapter to a fantastic game of hide and seek between Gary and his perpetrators and a final showdown of unjust proportions.
The only flaw being the half-arsed written superior soldiers in Gary’s regiment and the bothersome sub-story of them coming to his rescue. It’s inadequate a sub-story that neither matches or even touches on the bravado and brotherhood, of say, Saving Private Ryan.
Successful in transporting us into what feels like an authentic, harrowing time in Ireland, Demange has produced a beautifully shot, edited and for the most part, a well scripted film. O’Connell deserves all the praise he’s getting and Harris continues to cement his place as one of Britain’s best method actors. ’71 is perhaps what Greengrass’s other film Bourne Identity would be like if he’d set it in the premise of Bloody Sunday. unashamed action-packed, thriller highlighting a very important, devastating and dangerous time to the forefront once again.