’71 tells the story of a British soldier, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) who is inadvertently abandoned by his unit in the midst of a riot in Belfast. It is 1971 and tensions between the IRA and Great Britain are in tatters. They have been deployed to a certain town within Belfast and what starts as an arrest, with the British army as backup, turns into chaos. Gary is now on the run, without any guns, no radio and not many options. Pursued by IRA members, Gary depends on certain factions of townspeople who are more sympathetic to the British, for refuge. He is wounded with a gash in his stomach and has no food or water. Talk about a bad day.
’71 was shot in 2013 and was in limited release in the United Kingdom in October of 2014. It was not until this past week that this film became available in the states on a first run basis. Playing in limited release and On Demand, ’71 is a solid film. The fact that this film has garnered mostly rave reviews, is probably the only reason it has come to America. This is a powerful film about not only the fight between the IRA and the British army, but the clash of ideas among the Irish people, as well. it is clear that, in ’71, the battle is between the IRA and the British. O’Connell is terrific as a young man who has visions of distinguishing himself on the field of battle, but soon realizes that just surviving is going to be hard enough. His character is young and naive, but resourceful and intelligent. He is not represented as a superhero, so to speak. Just a good man in a horrible situation.
’71 was directed by Yann Demange and for his first big film, he has taken a divisively touchy subject and told it well. He makes distinctions that no side is completely innocent and no side is completely guilty. First time, big screen script writer Gregory Burke has written a very thoughtful screenplay that outlines the politics without getting weighed down in details. It presents the ideas and lets the audience make up their own minds. There is an energy to ’71 which kept me intrigued by the Gary Hook character and even the supporting cast like Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, David Wilmot is extremely good. None of the performances are overdone and the political posturing is smartly written. David Holmes has composed the score for ’71 and it is softly smooth and very cool electronic soundtrack. It is one worth buying on Amazon.
It is a shame that ’71 is not getting a wider release and I am a little surprised that it is not, to be honest. This is a good film; powerful and unflinching. Well acted, directed and written and at a fraction of the budget of some of the big disappointing summer blockbusters have. I have a feeling it is the politics that people are afraid of, even though the film is not preachy, at all. This is a small independent film that works and is well worth tracking down in theaters or dialing up on your TV. At 99 minutes, it won’t take up too much of your time, either.
’71- **** out of 5
’71- Rated R for language, violence
’71- Run Time 99 minutes