dir. Yann Demange
starring: Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann
An intense night in Belfast at the height of the Troubles in 1971. Jack O’Connell plays an army recruit thrown into the middle of conflict who must find his way to safety.
In Northern Ireland, at the height of the Troubles, an army recruit (Jack O’Connell) is sent into Belfast with his unit to quell the violence. The unit is sent in to assist the local police force in an investigation. As they enter they are met with open hostility. Kids throw turd bombs at them. A crowd soon gathers, angry at the army’s presence. Then one of the soldiers is shot, and a riot breaks out. The situation gets out of hand and he is separated from his unit. He has to find his way back, while trying to stay alive, in enemy territory. The film is grimy and tries to get the look of an urban war zone. The night sky is lit with burning cars and buildings; and the few people on the street rush to the relative safety of their homes. Director Demange employs the shaky, handheld camera device, which at this point feels tired and showy. ’71 gives no context to the situation. The meaning of the movement, the riots, public opinion aren’t addressed directly. Like Hook, we are thrown into the thick of the conflict. From that confusion, the main focus is the humanity and underlying compassion.
It is a cat and mouse thriller where allegiances are unclear. It soon becomes clear that the undercover agents (lead by Sean Harris) are also out to get Hook. Their mission isn’t made clear, and, in any case, it doesn’t seem to be the point. It seems more to focus on compassion for a fellow human in a time of crisis. That being said, no good deed goes unpunished. The Lieutenant (Sam Reid) chooses to go into Belfast without riot gear. It is a goodwill gesture that backfires spectacularly when they are unequipped to deal with the riot. The army vet (Richard Dormer) that helps him, didn’t know who he was, is later threatened by enemy. The juxtaposition of mercy and violence reminded me of Children of Men, in a good way. Those were the powerful moments of ’71.
The ending, while not ambiguous, is not hopeful either. Hook is not developed enough for us to fully invest in his story after the conflict.
Recommend: I’d wait for the DVD release.
Availability (US): in limited theatrical release 27 Feb