Set against the backdrop of The Trouble (i.e. the 30-year Northern Ireland Conflict), ‘’71’ follows a young British soldier (magnificently played by Jack O’Connell) as he tries to find his way back to safety after his unit accidentally abandons him during a chaotic riot on the deadly streets of Belfast circa 1971. Director Yann Demange’s debut feature is a powerfully directed and exceptionally acted action thriller with kinetic Paul Greengrass-like camerawork. My overall score doesn’t reflect my enthusiasm for the film, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, the good: Jack O’Connell. I haven’t seen ‘Starred Up’, or ‘Unbroken’, but ‘’71’ is a perfect showcase for this actor’s talents and is easily a star-making performance. He has a great acting career ahead of him. Few performers are able to gracefully walk the line between resilience and vulnerability.
This is the sort of movie that grabs you from the get-go and does not let go for an incredibly intense 99 minutes. The moments between the action sequences can’t even be described as moments of calm; the threat of sudden violence is palpable – you sense it within every conversation. Just when things appear too hopeful, the harsh realities of the time are made abundantly clear to us. A lesser film would have just shown O’Connell’s character eluding one perilous situation after another. ‘’71’ gives us more – we even drop in on IRA militants devising elaborate plans to delude alliances.
The dramatic scenes work. As the story moves forward, O’Connell’s character encounters a young boy who directs him to hiding places and a doctor who risks both his life and his daughter’s life to help this wounded solider. Also palpable are the ramifications of interacting with and helping a wanted man.
I have a love-hate affair with the action sequences. When O’Connell’s character is on the run, ‘’71’ is at its most exciting. And most frustrating. Down a motion sickness pill before you attend this show. The camerawork is relentless with at least 30 minutes of shaky cam, which all too effectively demonstrates the chaos of battle, and how during such chaos, there is no perspective. I can understand the usage of this technique within the context of this picture and I can admire the craftsmanship, but for a good section of the picture, I had knots in my stomach and I felt sick. This is where ‘’71’ lost a potential fourth star. Still, this is a taut and tense thriller that deserves an audience. Just sit in the far back row if you can. QED.