Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Richard Dormer, Killian Scott, Sam Reid, Paul Thomas
Yann Demange’s directorial debut ’71 manages to include all the required aspects. Not only of a good war film, but a realistic portrait of the effects of warfare- shootouts, explosions, riots, psychological conflict, and the desperation of not only those involved but those caught in the middle. What they’re willing to do for their country, and for themselves. All in one horrendous night. There’s a certain detachment this movie has from its protagonist, but that doesn’t detract the impact of the onscreen actions in the slightest. While ’71 may not work on the scale that Apocalypse Now operates on, this film may function on a personal and humane level that is more relatable to the audience. The less desirable qualities of people are shown in this film. This movie is at times driven by impulses, honest mistakes, and betrayal.
The English teenager Gary Hook (O’Connell) joins the British army around 1971 (naturally), and is deployed into Belfast around the time that The Troubles began in Ireland. When they arrive, Hook notices that a lot of his fellow soldiers are surprisingly hostile towards the protesting civilians. After chaos ensues with Catholic protesters, Hook is separated from his group, and subsequently accidentally abandoned. He then has to survive the night, while avoiding almost all pedestrians and watching his back for not one but two rebellious factions.
The plot is not about The Troubles, the British army, or even about any completely concise moral, but about the man surviving the night. There are antagonistic human beings on both sides, and neither side is very beneficiary to our protagonist. Most of the movie’s 99 minute runtime fixates on problems that are completely in the moment. Hook is constantly under pressure by the world he’s been placed in, and the adrenaline doesn’t let up.
As previously stated, Gary is not fully displayed to us. Sure we see him interact with his younger brother to give him a sense of compassion, but we don’t see him in any other personal aspects. This was probably used to make him an unbiased observer, someone who could almost be anyone, walking through and suffering the tragedies depicted so the audience can project themselves into it all the better. This detachment was a risky option, but not a reasonless one. It’s essentially a step-by-step walkthrough of any lone soldier’s night in Belfast in 1971.
This film is extremely fast-paced after its opening few minutes, and constantly has a paranoid feel to it thanks to its handheld-camera filming method, that pick up mostly after the deployment. This method makes itself known but doesn’t annoy us. There is also the employment of the rather obnoxious “shaky cam” method. However, in this situation it is not made to make the sequences completely incoherent, and is used well after the sequences are executed, in a sometimes effective but sometimes overbearing attempt to thrill us even more after certain scenes.
Although this movie was vastly entertaining, it ends just quickly enough to be underwhelming. I felt that the ending, even though it wrapped up with properly finishing Hook’s story, was incomplete considering what the rest of ’71 presented us. This may be rather contradictory in comparison to the fact that this film is apparently true-to-life. Nobody is going to insult this film or belittle the story being told, but the film isn’t assertive in its significance. Through its briefness and some of its characters, I find its perfection to be somewhat cut short. Its assertion as an action film at times creates a “flash over substance” that while giving it real emotional depth through its horrors, it doesn’t assert its place as an unforgettable film.