There seems to be a running trend at the moment, and that is that brilliant films are being created by newcomers at the helm. Directing his first feature film, Yaan Demange has produced a gripping thriller in ’71, setting a startling pace that carries all the way through and features a stellar cast, in particular rising talent (and an assumed fan of the war flick) Jack O’Connell.
Set in 1971, fresh-faced British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is steadfast and stoic in his new role in the armed forces, despite his youth and inexperience. But trouble is brewing in Belfast, where warring religious disputes between the Catholics and the Protestants are taking place, spilling onto the streets and creating bedlam, thanks in part to the gung-ho Paul Haggerty (Martin McCann). Hook and his unit are soon dispatched to settle some of these riots, but are soon stranded when he is left behind thanks to the bumbling fool that is the commanding officer Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid). Tasked with trying to survive the night between two enemies that now have a common goal, Hook is at the core still a teenager struggling to live, but determined to do so.
This film is by no means a documentary, but the action puts you right in the thick of things, and is rightfully unapologetic in its violence and human (in)decency. Demange keeps the camera trained always on the action and nowhere else, because clearly the guy knows that this is what we need to see, but his complete lack of hesitation adds to the realistic vibe of the film. Such violence did occur during this time, and it’s refreshing to see that ’71 highlights the viciousness warts and all, and although graphic at times, it’s also completely enthralling. Every scene just holds your attention, regardless of the level of action taking place, and that’s the most enchanting thing about this film, for most audiences the relatability of a soldier trapped behind enemy lines is hopefully few and far between. Yet Hook’s struggle is important not as an officer but as a human, and therein lies the true magic of ’71.
The first time this reviewer saw Jack O’Connell in anything was as the troubled teen Cook in the hit series Skins. He has definitely come a long way since then and his performance here as the lead Hook is nothing short of inspiring. If I didn’t know any better, I would assume that O’Connell has actually been a soldier at one point or another, because clearly he has an affinity to such mindsets. Take everything else away from him and O’Connell would still be left with the raw talent of believability, fully immersing himself into not only his character, but the setting, the vibe, the overall bleakness of it all, adding layer after layer in every single scene. O’Connell’s performance is one of the key components that keep this little engine chugging along at a stellar pace, and his status is now firmly cemented as ‘on the rise’.
It’s only early days in terms of the films that are coming out this year, but don’t be surprised come December if ’71 is still confidently rooted in your Top 5 of 2015. This is assuredly a must see as soon as you can, if not sooner, for this is a thriller that is actually thrilling, and a great instalment in the action genre.
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