I only had time for one movie during our week of having my picture taken with beloved movie characters, visiting famous movie locations, and riding movie-themed attractions. I had been wanting to see ’71 since its screening at TIFF last year and when my brother bought the DVD at LA’s Amoeba Music (my new favourite place), I finally had my chance.
Set mostly over one eventful night in 1971 Belfast, ’71 tells the story of a new recruit to the British army (Jack O’Connell, from Starred Up and Unbroken) who is left behind by his unit during a conflict with angry Irish Catholic Nationalists. The film follows the soldier’s fight to stay alive in hostile territory while injured and scared shitless which sets off a bloody chain of events with far-reaching consequences.
First-time director Yann Demange takes no violent act for granted and is careful to acknowledge the personal and political cost of every punch thrown, every bullet fired, and every bomb that goes off. There are a lot of interested parties here and Demange shows compassion to members of each group. It’s refreshing and admirable even when the increasingly complex narrative eventually loses some momentum with a heavy-handed finale.
’71 works best as a thriller. When Demange is reminding us of the very real danger that the soldier finds himself in. Violence is used sparingly and usually following an extended build-up of tension. Hand-held cameras masterfully capture foot chases through apartment complexes, sides streets, and back alleys. it doesn’t hurt that O’Connell is up for the challenge. There’s not a trace of old school heroism with this guy as he limps through Belfast with genuine fear in his eyes.
This film may not be perfect but it is a very good one. Good enough to take a 99-minute break from my vacation.