Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris
Director: Yann Demange
Running Time: 99 mins
’71 is a British film about a soldier who finds himself lost in the middle of Belfast after a botched security operation against Irish Republicans, forcing him to traverse hostile territory on one long night at the height of the Troubles.
Executed brilliantly throughout, ’71 represents somewhat of a different sort of war film, proving consistently surprising, dark and intense from start to finish. Focusing on a history that isn’t often portrayed in pure war films, ’71 brings the darkest nights of the Troubles to life ingeniously, making for an utterly enthralling watch.
We’ll start off by looking at how this film works so well in the war genre, and is yet hugely original and as a result very exciting throughout.
At the start, the story follows a troop of soldiers who are deployed in Belfast in a fairly traditional fashion, going through intense training and planning for their operation, leading up to the moments when things start to go wrong.
And that’s where things change. While the wider scale of the Troubles and the conflict between Unionists and Republicans in Ireland is always looming large, it’s impressive to see how the film manages to focus that all into one very succinct and intense story – following a British soldier completely out of his depth in the middle of hostile territory.
Eventually evolving into just as much of a survive-the-night thriller as a war film, ’71 becomes a rapid-paced, unpredictable and often even frightening watch, expertly emphasising the brutal divisions in the city, and proving how the violence affected the lives of ordinary people simply caught in the crossfire, making for a thoroughly exciting and still interesting experience.
Along with its ingenious use of the historical situation for the story, director Yann Demange also does a great job to ramp up the tension and drama in the movie. Just like some of the best survive-the-night thrillers, the abrupt transition between day and night immediately sparks tension and fear as this soldier’s desperate escape begins, while Demange also uses the rainy setting of Belfast to extra effect in the film’s nail-biting final act, helping to bring some strong emotional drama to surround the intensity of the story coming to a head.
Also, Jack O’Connell is very strong in the lead role. It’s not the sort of performance that requires the most traditional acting skills, but it’s a very physical role, and he plays a huge part in keeping up the intensity of the story, portraying his character as properly vulnerable and confused, yet has the physical strength to make you believe that
he can make it out alive.
Overall, I was very impressed by ’71. It’s a fascinating war film that does the true intensity of the Troubles real justice, but also proves a riveting and hugely exciting survival thriller thanks to strong directing and an excellent lead performance, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.