Review – ’71
This review was first published in BMA Magazine.
In 1971, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is a young recruit in the British Army who is deployed to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to help keep the peace during the unrest in the region (The Troubles). Hook gets separated from his squad during a riot on their first mission in a volatile area where Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists live side by side. Unarmed, injured and the target of several factions, Hook must survive on his own.
’71 takes the simple ‘behind enemy lines’ concept and turns it into something that resonates strongly within the historical context of the political instability of The Troubles. Director Yann Demange creates an intense atmosphere on the streets of Belfast and it feels like death and hatred is around every corner. Screenwriter Gregory Burke crafts subplots involving the pursuit of Hook that gives insights into the political machinations of various organisations in their pursuit of dominance – it’s packed tightly with different types of urban warfare and espionage.
At times ’71 and its male dominant cast do overplay the gruff ‘hard men during hard times’ element of the situation, but O’Connell’s performance is noteworthy, particularly the physicality he exerts as a man on the run, which then gives way to anguish as the story unfolds.
Like all great cinematic examinations of conflict, ’71 effectively emphasises the pointlessness of the bloodshed in Northern Ireland as countrymen with so much in common, yet little different, tore each other to pieces.
The Popcorn Junkie