’71 Reviews’71 Reviews
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’71 Reviews

‘They do not care about you, to them, you are just a piece of meat’.

As fists fly into jaws and beads of sweat fall to the floor, we immediately know that ’71 is going to be brutal, relentless and hard-hitting. First time director Yann Demange gives us an emotionally charged thriller that follows Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) as he is unintentionally left behind by his unit. Refreshingly this isn’t a WWII rehash as we are taken deep into the heart of Belfast, during the terrorist threat the IRA sparked back in the 70’s.

We see the unbearably hard endurance training and early morning drills these soldiers are put through, none of which will ever prepare this regiment for what is about to happen. As they are transferred to Belfast under plum Brit Lieutenant Armitage (Sam Reid) their first mission is where we, along with this group of guys visualise the destruction and devastation that poses a threat to anyone on the streets. Demange then gives us a fast-paced, violent and out-right terrifying riot scene which gives Billy Elliot’s coal miners a run for their money. This authentic riot sequence is the sole reason why Hook is left to fend for himself in this hostile territory. After narrowly escaping a bullet, when Hook finds salvation it quickly dawns on him that there is no easy way out of this situation.

’71 much like it’s leading man, never gives up. It’s relentlessly heavy This is England rough and ready style outlines these hard times with shocking realism. What this film certainly doesn’t do is portray the glory and gratification one would receive after being involved in such attacks. In fact, it shows the complete opposite. As the quote suggests, these guys are here to do one job and even if you get left behind, nearly blown to smithereens, shot at and beaten to a pulp you will get no thanks. O’Connell who has recently appeared in the brutal prison drama Starred Up, brings the perfectly damaged Gary Hook to life on screen. This brute of kid originally known for Skins is fast becoming an accomplished actor; showing virtually every emotion over the hour and a half running time. The dialogue for him here is minimal (perhaps to highlight the fact that if he reveals his Derbyshire accent, he’s sure to be killed), yet we completely understand his character and in turn trust no one on screen, even if they seem to be helping.

Many have stated that the choice of shaky hand held camera takes away from the action at hand, and that it does. Not to say this was completely the wrong technique but at times this was a little off putting. It’s understandable that the camera movements would coincide with the unpredictable and uncomfortable nature of war albeit, just toning this down a touch would have made all the difference. That aside, ’71 paints a morbid picture of such times and openly explores the possibilities of double agents on both sides of the coin.

Of course, civil unrest caused by religious differences is something we see frequently in the media – ’71 shows exactly how such unrest affects every single person involved, no matter how hard they try to alienate themselves from it. This is a fantastic directorial debut from Yann Demange, that collides intense emotion with the harsh reality that was Belfast during the 1970’s.

’71 is in selected theatres from Monday 10th October, 2014.