’71 is a historical action film directed by Yann Demange, with a screenplay by Gregory Burke. Set in the early years of “the Troubles,” the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) and his unit are deployed to Belfast. While helping the Northern Irish police force with home inspections in a Nationalist neighborhood, things quickly turn volatile. A riot ensues, and the British army retreats; however, in the process, the unit leaves two soldiers behind, including Gary. When the other soldier is shot and killed, Gary flees deep behind enemy lines, eluding the crowd of violent protestors until night. Throughout this single night of abandonment, Gary struggles with telling friend from foe, and the film depicts his attempt at survival in the midst of one of the most brutal conflicts in world history.
If you are not well versed in the story of “the Troubles,” this is definitely a film you want to see. “The Troubles” was the name given to the Northern Irish conflict that spanned from 1968–1998. One of the main issues of the conflict was whether Northern Ireland should remain with the United Kingdom or whether it should leave the UK. Over 3,500 people died during the “war.” With such a violent history, it would be incredibly easy for a filmmaker to trivialize these horrendous events. Luckily, director Yann Demange (this is his debut feature film) focuses instead on the Jekyll-and-Hyde-nature of the civil discord. It was incredibly difficult to know whether someone was truly on the side he/she purported to support or not—one minute Gary comes across someone who is sympathetic to his plight, and the next minute it appears those motivations were traitorous. With help from Gregory Burke’s thrilling script, Demange depicts the double-crossing conspiracy of the Troubles masterfully. The cinematography is kinetic, in all the best ways, and Demange provides enough screen time to characters on all sides of the conflict in order to best delineate the inherent untrustworthiness of all parties involved.
Although the film features some fantastic supporting performances from actors like Sean Harris, Richard Dormer, and Barry Keoghan, the star of the film is Jack O’Connell as Gary Hook. O’Connell is one of the most prominent up-and-coming actors in world cinema, and I am quickly becoming a huge fan of his work. In 2014, O’Connell shined in films such as Starred Up (which I ranked as my No. 4 film of the year) and Unbroken, and in ’71, he has added another award-worthy performance to his filmography. Gary Hook is both tough and sensitive, and O’Connell skillfully portrays this personality dichotomy in much the same way as he did with a similar character in Starred Up. The film truly places you on the edge of your seat throughout, and in every gripping moment, we fear for Gary—O’Connell nails this trepidation with a unique dexterity. ’71 is rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout.
’71 trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYDNyEkJP4
Academy Award nominations for ’71:
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Beasts of No Nation
- The Martian