UK Release Date: 17th October 2014
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Yann Demange
Writer: Gregory Burke
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Paul Anderson
Synopsis: A young English squaddie becomes stranded in the hostile, labyrinthine streets of Belfast when a routine house search goes horribly and violently wrong.
In terms of recent history, the Troubles is one of the most fertile conflicts for British cinema to cover. Dozens of films have been set during the period, but ‘71 – the first feature from Yann Demange – claims to be more realistic than any of them. It’s certainly a hell of a thrill ride.
Deployed on the streets of Belfast, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) finds himself all alone when he is isolated in the midst of a riot. As his commanding officer (Sam Reid) attempts to track him down, forces from both sides of the Irish conflict try to get to him first.
This has been a hell of a year for Jack O’Connell. He was terrific in brutal prison drama Starred Up and he is receiving early awards buzz for historical biopic Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie. It is his committed performance that elevates ‘71 above the standard wartime thriller. O’Connell is enormously believable as a raw, young squaddie who is completely out of his depth. He isn’t given the same level of material he was for Starred Up, but he really makes the most of what he has.
| "They don’t care about you. You’re just a piece of meat to them."
The galaxy of British actors alongside him are a lot less memorable. Sam Reid, fresh from great work in The Riot Club, fails to make an impact as an unbearably posh soldier and the rest of the cast also struggle to match the work O’Connell is doing in the lead role. However, in the face of O’Connell’s power, this has little impact on the eventual film.
The real star of ‘71 though is the setting. Belfast, in this film, looks more like a battle-scarred frontline in the Middle East than an island just a stone’s throw from our own. Rubble, explosions and blood are the order of the day, with shocking moments of brutality peppered throughout the film. An early scene involving a point-blank headshot is genuinely tough to watch.
As a first-time director, Yann Demange is remarkably accomplished. He turns the streets of Belfast into a rabbit warren of alleyways and paths, from which O’Connell’s characters cannot escape. Demange creates genuine claustrophobia around O’Connell’s performance, perfectly measuring the brutality to make it hit very hard indeed.
| "[War is just] posh cunts telling thick cunts to kill poor cunts."
It isn’t perfect, but ‘71 is a terrific thriller that continues Jack O’Connell’s deserved rise to stardom. The film should also be a breakout feature for Yann Demange, who has showcased a real flair in his first full-length movie. It favours thrills and flourishes over depiction of history, but it’s a brutal nightmare that fizzes with raw power.
Pop or Poop?
Another excellent vehicle for Jack O’Connell, ‘71 depicts Northern Ireland as the war zone it was during the Troubles and delivers an unflinching portrayal of violence and desperation.
O’Connell’s performance is a blood-soaked triumph, even if it doesn’t quite live up to his ferocious turn in Starred Up. The supporting cast don’t make much of an impact, but this is certainly O’Connell’s movie and he makes the most of it.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.