’71 (2014)

’71 (2014)

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That’s no way to hold a weapon, lad!

Twitter Plot Summary: A young soldier finds himself on the run in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Five Point Summary:

1. So they’re not off to Germany then. Ho hum.
2. Machinations and differences of opinion abound.
3. He’s not Superman – look, he got caught in the blast!
4. Sneaking around on a cold, wet night like that?
5. Hmm, morally ambiguous to say the least. All of them. Except Gary. He’s lovely.

First and foremost, whilst it may be set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, it is not a film about said Troubles. Instead it uses that background as its setting and presents a chase movie with young army recruit Gary (Jack O’Connell) escaping from a group of extreme IRA members who, after a riot leaves him separated from his unit, are intent on hunting him down and killing him before he can get to safety. The situation is clearly marked out in a briefing to the new recruits and, incidentally, for the audience, about the Catholic/Protestant divide and that Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and not some far-flung corner of the dwindling empire.

O’Connell is a fantastic presence, not specifically for his delivery of dialogue (although that is entirely appropriate for the character), but because of his ability to present a range of emotions without having to say a word. His is also a character who frequently feels the full force of the attacks on his person and has to cope with the resulting physical effect this has on him. This refusal to show him as some superhero soldier aids in seeing him in a compassionate light and wanting him to make it through to safety. Special mention must also go to Sean Harris for his slimy Captain Browning, a man who is as complicated as his well managed sideburns and moustache combo. He has an unknown agenda in all of this, and whilst substantially on the same side as Gary, there’s still an element to him that remains suspect.

The Troubles, or 28 Days Later? Or both?
The Troubles, or 28 Days Later? Or both?

The situation already offers its own fair share of tension, but this is magnified and complicated by the various power struggles that are taking place all around Gary. Other than his perspective, on his side of the fence there are his fellow army companions and a small group of plain clothes officers manipulating the situation to their own end. On the other side are the IRA, an extreme group of the IRA, and the local residents living in the affected area. Each have their own ideals and opinions and, as history has indicated, make it absolutely clear that the situation wasn’t as black and white as you may have been led to believe.

The style chosen by director Yann Demange is one full of energy and kinetic movement, frequently handheld and not afraid to get in the faces of the actors. Each and every moment has a gritty realism to it, at times as if we’re watching a documentary of events rather than a film. This technique works well for bringing the audience into the drama and, other than the occasional moment of quiet, creates a sense that things could explode at any moment. And they do, quite frequently. With all the political machinations taking place amidst what would otherwise be a quiet domestic setting, Demange and everyone else involved, performers and cast included, have crafted a well balanced action thriller that will leave you gripped until the end.

Score: 4.5/5

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