By Gary Murray
Starring Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid and Sean Harris
Written by Gregory Burke
Directed by Yann Demange
Running time 99 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
‘71 is a war film. ‘71 is a political thriller. ‘71 is an action picture. ’71 is a film about religion. ’71 is a film about humanity. ’71 is a film about inhumanity. ’71 is one of the best films of 2015.
The story is of a soldier Gary Hook played by Jack O’Connell. He is a soldier for Queen and Country but one feels that it is more of a job than something he believes in with his heart and soul. The platoon gets their orders that they are to go to Belfast. They are to keep the peace in Northern Ireland.
In 1971, Northern Ireland was a war zone. The Irish Republican Army was the freedom fighter/terrorist of the area. The British were trying to keep the land and keep the peace. Northern Ireland was mostly Protestant while the rest of the country was fiercely Catholic.
The police had dual loyalties, they were sworn to protect Queen and country but they also feel a loyalty to their fellow countrymen. And everybody was afraid of crossing the IRA.
Gary is just a private who is sent to keep the peace. A skirmish breaks out and some of the soldiers are hurt. They evacuate but Gary falls behind and he is left.
Members of the IRA begin to hunt him down. It is a chase where the soldier is befriended first by a tough little street kid and eventually by a former military medic. Not everybody in Ireland supports the IRA but all are afraid of them.
The film is of how different groups are involved in the rescue of Gary and how politics sometimes trumps morality. At times, the film becomes a cat and mouse game between the different combatants and one is never sure where loyalties lie.
The film‘71is an intense experience mainly due to the acting of young Jack O’Connell. He gives a wide-eyed reading of the material and the audience feels his fear and pains as he traverses across this alien territory. We are just as lost and scared as he is and everyone fears for his life.
The film is directed by Yann Demange who is basically a television director who is making his big screen debut. He holds the audience in tension for a good 90 minutes, never letting up on the suspense. The film becomes a thrill ride in his hands but he never looses sight of the political ramifications that the production holds. It is tightrope balance that he handles with artists aplomb.
I know that some people will find it hard to follow some of dialect tones of Irish English. The inflection is hard on American ears. Also, one has to understand both the English/Irish conflict as well as the Catholic/Protestant conflict to truly understand the depths of hatred portrayed in the film.
Those points aside, ’71 is an important film that works both as a historical document and an action thriller. It is one of the few must see films of the young year.