Saturday, October 04, 2014

'71 Review

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Directed by: Yann Demange
Written by: Gregory Burke
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, David Wilmot, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, Barry Keogh
Running time: 99 minutes
A war zone-like Belfast during the Troubles may not be the subject Yann Demange previously imagined his directorial debut would home in on, but from the director behind Channel 4’s hard-hitting urban drama Top Boy, you would imagine the project is good hands considering his past experience in depicting violence and warfare of sorts. In 1971, Northern Ireland exists in a heightened state of schism, with Protestants and Catholics violently set against each other. A British regiment, including one Gary Hook (O'Connell), are sent to carry out searches and restore order but do not fully account for the vitriol the inhabitants will reign on these soldiers they view as hostile intruders. In the confusion of an outbreak of riots, Hook is accidentally separated and abandoned by his troops and forced to navigate the unforgiving streets and avoid being killed by those who hunt him.
‘71 gets immediately to business with a charged and testosterone-fuelled start of ceaselessly punishing army drills. Soon after, we bear witness to scenes that unleash an orgy of riots, shooting, explosions and fire. Chaos grows swiftly here and with increasing menace, from the uniform banging of dustbin lids on the ground, to showers of rocks, and bullets through unsuspecting skulls as the inhabitants of the street form one unholy organism. Quite the picture of hell on earth, and the way in which this picture is painted is done so with a heavy dose of graphic verism. Far from being somewhat dismissive in the manner of television and film that show human slaughter in front of one who is almost immediately able to carry on as normal, it defiantly holds shots of the occurring violence and its aftermath. During particularly raw moments, the takes look as though they are captured on a handheld camera with composed filming abandoned to break through a barrier to intrusive reality.
Jack O’Connell continues to prove to be one who never disappoints in a role, once again displaying his affinity with conflicted characters.The epitome of worst first day ever, Hook has barely had his first taste of the field - a supposedly routine domestic search - before being dragged into a bloody, dangerous fight for his life. Gary Hook, far from invincible, is a very human soldier who over the course of events will take a (series of) beatings worse than anyone. To complicate matters even further, the nature of the conflict is not simply one against the other. The events explore the complexity of getting by in a place where everyone and anyone is a potential enemy - not only gangs of shady thugs but a child or seemingly well-meaning stranger. Inter-factional betrayal, double agents and increasing power play are active in equal and visceral measure, adding to if not thickening the ever present tension. The situation elevates from fighting one group against the other to everyone fighting each other, constantly realigning their loyalties and switching sides. There are few genuine soldiers here and it seems to be a case of good guy finishes last. 
Considering the decades-long duration of the Troubles, the film is a mere snapshot but its length is perfect for sustaining the terse atmosphere consistently from start to finish. It also emphasises the actuality that this was a battle that was not Hook’s to fight, his priorities lying elsewhere in more familial territory lifetimes away from this melting-pot of agitation. If by the end, core issues of the Troubles have not been explored, it definitely succeeds in capturing the tension that erupted, with intimate focus on the lives of a few with important stories to be told.


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