’71

Director: Yann Demange (2014)

Collusion, coercion and violence are tied together by a compelling central performance in this tremendously tense British thriller.

With a pared-down plot it’s an action movie without a love interest, barely any humour and a great deal of pain. Assured pacing and confident editing complement a script remarkable for its sparse dialogue. It allows for Jack O’Connell to use his native accent and makes the most of his physical screen presence.

Private Gary Hook (O’Connell) is a raw recruit enduring a gruelling training programme. It’s mercifully brief and included to underline how unprepared these raw recruits are.

A deterioration of the political and social situation in Northern Ireland sees Hook’s platoon packed off in an emergency deployment. Dumped on the front-line in Belfast we’re carefully reminded this war-zone is part of the UK, not a foreign land.

With the city divided by the notorious Falls Road with the friendly Protestants to the east and hostile Catholics to the west, the squaddies are warned of the paramilitaries on both sides. It’s a monstrously messed up environment of graffiti, burnt-out cars and teenagers throwing rocks and dirty (urine and faeces) bombs.

Their fresh-faced and middle class commanding officer Lieutenant Armitage (Sam Reid) is hopelessly out of his depth.

Hook’s squad assist the brutal Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) searching Catholic houses and a rifle is stolen. As a riot breaks out Hook loses his weapon and is separated from his team.

Attempting to return to barracks he must dodge bombs and rioters. Not all locals are hostile but all face repercussions if caught helping him.

The upper ranks of either side have a shaky control of events on the streets. There are betrayals, blackmail and executions as they race to find the lost soldier.

Cinematographer Tat Radcliffe colours a dingy, damp world with an autumnal palette. An eerie and disorientating soundscape by sound mixer Rashad Omar emphasises Hook’s weak and vulnerable state and creates a general air of confusion.

Set a year prior to the infamous Bloody Sunday civilian massacre, ’71 offers an explanation but not an excuse for those events.

There’s no gung-ho flag waving but a bunch of scared working class lads trying to survive a situation they barely understand and have no control over. ’71 is a superior film to the similarly themed and lauded American Sniper. No-one survives without being affected.

Unbroken

Director: Angelina Jolie (2014)

Celebrating the human capacity for endurance, this true-life tale of Second World War survival is barely believable – and not for the faint-hearted.

It’s based on the book by Lauren Hillenbrand which covers the life of USA Olympian and airman Louis ‘Louie’ Zamperini.

Director Angelina Jolie demonstrates she’s far from the minimally talented spoiled brat that recently leaked Sony emails would insist, crafting a handsome and traditional movie with exciting flying sequences and strong acting from watchable performers.

But it does suffer from repetition and so fails to achieve the emotional pitch it strives for.

Born into a poor family young Louie (Brit star Jack O’Connell) learns resilience when he’s bullied for being an immigrant. His older brother Pete (Alex Russell) encourages him to channel his energy on the athletics track to avoid getting into serious trouble.

After representing the US as a distance runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Louie enlists as an airman. While on a rescue mission his plane crashes in the Pacific.

Adrift in a lifeboat with two Mac and Phil (Finn Wittrock and Domhnall Gleeson), they survive sharks, sunburn, sickness and being shot at.

This is the strongest part of the movie as dialogue is kept to a minimum allowing the orchestra and the scenery do the talking, captured with customary finesse by ace British cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Picked up by the Japanese navy the survivors are subjected to interrogation, beatings and solitary confinement before being transferred to a savage POW camp.

It’s ran by the sadistic warden nicknamed ‘The Bird’, played competently by Japanese musician Miyavi in his first acting role. But the fraught relationship between guard and prisoner is forced and unconvincing.

Louie is offered by an easy life in exchange for allowing his celebrity runner status as Japanese propaganda in radio broadcasts but instead is returned and sent to a dockside coal-yard – where The Bird is once again in charge.

An early Oscar front runner Unbroken only picked up nominations for cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing and it will be interesting to see if Jolie can build a second career from her solid efforts here.

★★☆☆