’71 is a 2014 historical thriller directed by Yann Demange and starring Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, David Wilmot and Richard Dormer. It is set in 1971’s Belfast, in the early years of the Norther Ireland conflict (a.k.a. The Troubles). Long story short, it was a low-level war between Protestants (who considered themselves British) and Catholics (who were Irish nationalists) concerning whether Norther Ireland should be part of the United Kingdom or of Ireland.
The story follows Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), new recruit of the British Army, whose platoon is sent in the heart of Belfast. On the first day there, the British soldiers are attacked by an angry mob while they were supporting Royal Ulster Constabulary (the Irish police force) in searching houses for smuggled weapons. The soldiers are forced to retreat, and Hook and his friend Thompson are left behind. Beaten and battered, the latter is shot point-blank by a PIRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) gunman, and Hook escapes. Now he has to find a way back to his barracks, while avoiding a number of people who want him dead for a multitude of reasons.
The movie is an effective portrayal of one of the darkest and most overlooked periods in contemporary European history. It might sound cliched to say, but showcasing that not everything is black and white (especially during periods of war) is not an easy task. Most of the people in this movie are opportunistic and egoistic, thinking only of their cause and their personal goals instead of the (actual) greater good. During this civil war (just like in many others) everyone sides with one part or another, with women and children involved in riots and attacks. But how many of these people actually knew what their objective was?
The movie makes a strong statement against senseless conflicts. “Senseless” in their means, not necessarily in their goals. Sometimes, being part of a society, you are forced to choose which side you are on, even if you do not agree with their beliefs. Emblematic of this is Sean, young boy who is doing everything to be part of something greater than him (in his case, PIRA), yet he cannot bring himself to kill another helpless human being. Living in a post-Brexit world, these characters and situations feel all the more relevant.
Director Yann Demange manages to create a great sense of tension throughout the entire movie, with barely any breathing space. This is achieved through great acting from the entire cast, especially Jack O’Connell, who carries most of the movie on his shoulder while reciting very few lines. Another key aspect is Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography: it has the best examples of hand-held camera that is very shaky only during foot chases, creating both a sense of confusion and panic while never being hard to follow thanks to great editing that lets these shots go on for some time. There is also an impressive long tracking shot that shows the devastating effect of what the explosion of a bomb will do.
The tone is rather bleak, with surprisingly violent moments that work not in an exploitative way, rather as a means to horrify the audience and show the nasty side of guerrilla fighting. There are no clean-cut good and bad guys, and most of them do not even get their comeuppance, just like in real life. It is an endless cycle of violence.
Overall, ’71 is a consistently engaging action thriller set in an important period of Britain’s history. Well executed and acted, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and it shows great promise for everyone involved in front and behind the camera.
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 2
Drugs & Profanity: 6.5
Intensity & Horror: 7.5