Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris, Paul Anderson, Charlie Murphy, Sam Hazeldine
Written by: Gregory Burke
Running Time: 99 mins
Release date: 10th October 2014
They say never judge a book by its cover. In the case of ’71, they are absolutely right. Coming across as a political drama about the troubles in Belfast, with its poster of a soldier wandering the streets, this owes more to the 70’s genre/exploitation films than any real comments about the politics at the time. This shouldn’t put you off, though, because ’71 is a cracking thriller that uses Belfast of the time as a backdrop to a real gripper.
Gary Hook is a new recruit to the army, expecting to go to Germany for his first tour but instead is sent to Belfast at the height of the troubles. On his first day out in the unfamiliar streets, a riot starts and Hook is left stranded and alone in the city he has no clue about. He does what he only do but run, escaping from the people of Belfast who want him dead. While he lives to survive the dark and dangerous streets, his platoon are concerned for his well-being but in fighting between the C.O. and Hook’s lieutenant is slowing things down, as the Provisional IRA and the real IRA are getting closer to finding him.
Yann Demange’s film grips from the start and never loses that grip throughout. Using a grainy effect for the night-time scenes, it gives the film the impression of those low-budget exploitation films that were usually a second feature to a bigger budget main during the 70’s. Except here, this is a main feature through and through. It crackles along at a terrific pace and we find ourselves just as confused and scared as Hook’s is. Never knowing who to trust, where to hide and if he will ever escape. We are with him every inch of the way.
The film isn’t flippant about the events of the time either, although it never rams down our throats the political ramifications, it does lay out the power struggle within the fractions, whether it be the army or the people of the city. The IRA are after the Provisional IRA, the Army are bickering among themselves, neither one helping the situation.
At the heart of the film isn’t a story about the troubles, not in the same way that Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father was but a well executed chase film that wouldn’t look amiss among The Warriors or Escape From New York. It has that grimy, gritty feel about it with a soundtrack from David Holmes, that could have quite easily been lifted from Death Wish, with its atmospheric single notes that far from hinders but enhances the action.
The performances from the strong cast are excellent, with Sam Hazeldine’s C O being particularly impressive but it is rising star Jack O’Connell who, once again, steals the limelight. After his career making performance in the superb prison drama, Starred Up, he brings a sense of vulnerability to the role of Hooks, a man lost and afraid in an unfamiliar world and yet we can still believe he can fight his way out of a situation if need be. Later this year, we will see him in Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, Unbroken, which should firmly place him as a star.
’71 is a film that is part thriller, part horror, part chase film, part drama but all the parts work extremely well. It’s demands a viewing regardless of your cinematic tastes and if you like your thrillers to be cranked up to 11, then this will suit you down to the ground.