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.