Wednesday, March 18, 2015

[Review] '71

Jack O'Connell's acting breakout has been a stellar one, considering Starred Up, Unbroken, and now '71, a real events based story about a soldier caught behind enemy lines.

It's the year 1971 (duh), and Private Gary Hook (O'Connell) is a British Army soldier in training. Eventually, he and his unit are sent to the dangerous streets of Belfast, Ireland to man the front lines of the Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists conflict. Soon after they arrive, a violent riot breaks out and Hook is separated from his group. He ends up in a flat of IRA stronghold, fearing for his life. From here on, it's a 24-hour course of survival and differentiating between friend and foe.

The shaky handheld camera puts the viewer into the center of action. This tactic may cause some dizziness as Hook swiftly weaves around corners and through alleyways, but it's a fitting approach for a story of anger, confusion, and paranoia. There are proper breaks in the bruising intensity, especially when Hook spends a good deal of time holed up in hiding while the stakes still remain high. The narrative ratchets up the conflict and tension on all sides, and at times, it's the ones that try to stay neutral that end up in the most danger. There's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" thread, but there's also a shred of humanism when all the labels are stripped away.

Yann Demange's '71 is a gritty, well-crafted & wounded thriller of politics and war. It will be interesting to see if Jack O'Connell will ever have a role where he isn't getting beaten, stabbed, shot at, or tortured, but he's proven to be pretty good at it, and I mean that in the best way possible.


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