'71 (2014) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Sean Harris, Paul Anderson, David Wilmot, Sam Hazeldine, Killian Scott, Sam Reid, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, Barry Keoghan
Director: Yann Demange
Screenplay: Gregory Burke
Review published March 16, 2015
At its heart, '71 is a standard caught-behind-enemy-lines story of someone trying desperately to make it back home alive, yet encountering trouble at seemingly every turn. The sparsely worded script by Gregory Burke (One Night in Emergency, Black Watch) ups the ante by bringing history and politics into the mix, giving us a real-life backdrop of complex loyalties from which the gripping direction by Paris-born Yann Demange (the longtime British TV helmer's first feature is an assured knockout) can spin off an in-your-face odyssey.
The story, set in the year 1971, naturally, revolves around new British army volunteer Gary Hook (O'Connell, Unbroken), who is dropped right out of training into the middle of Belfast, Northern Ireland, with several other of his fellow soldiers, caught in the middle between a feuding Catholic (who are hostile to the British interlopers) and Protestant (more favorable) Irish mob. A skirmish results which results in the killing of one of the soldiers, and Gary on the run in enemy territory while his brothers-in-arms find they have to high-tail it out, leaving him on his own, a stranger in a strange land and no exit from a murderous young faction of the IRA in sight.
The scene of the rock-hurling mob, angry and growing increasingly bold in their public display of civil disobedience by the minute, is a truly harrowing cinematic set piece, feeling like we're right in the middle of the action, confusion, and horror. Gary's escape via a foot chase through alleys and over fences, is an equally frenetic nail-biter, with even moments where he as to catch his breath fraught with a palpable tension. The fear he feels we also feel for him, as he must rely on stealth that his training probably barely covered, in an environment where his accent will easily reveal his true nationality. He sometimes finds a helping hand, but sometimes that help is really just a facade, as each person has his or her own loyalties, some beneficial, and others potentially deadly.
'71 sort of feels like a muscular John Carpenter flick in the vein of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, if he were to make film with a straight-forward A-list movie sensibility. Featuring a terrific Jack O'Connell starring role, and a finely tuned supporting cast, it's a well-crafted, disorienting, and spellbinding psychological suspense vehicle that feels much of a blast from the past as its namesake.
©2015 Vince Leo