First-time director Yann Demange’s historical drama ‘71, about a British soldier abandoned behind enemy lines in sectarian Belfast at the start of the Troubles, received nine nominations at the British Independent Film Awards. Unlike James Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father and Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley, ‘71 doesn’t focus on whole families being torn apart by the conflict or present a large picture of the events that lead to the Troubles. Instead, it focuses on a young soldier, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) who is left defenceless on the Falls Road when his regiment retreats from a botched house search which leads to an all- out neighbourhood riot.
Unable to tell the difference between friend and foe, the 100 minutes is a nail biting experiences for audiences as they watch Gary struggling to decide who to trust and who to kill in order to find his way back to the barracks. The pace of the film is perfect, explosive scenes are evenly balanced with moments of quiet and insight into the young soldier. There are some extremely disturbing scenes, aimed at reminding us of the horror experienced by everyday citizens during this period in Ireland’s history.
There are also redeeming elements, the film doesn’t feel at all like it takes the side of the Irish or English, but rather shows the good intentions of many of these people toward one another on a human level, despite the religious and ethnic divide in their society. It also keeps within the tradition of showing just how much internal conflict existed between splintering factions of the IRA, who often caused as much injury to their own people as the English.
What is remarkable about this film, given the emotional impact it has, is just how little dialogue there actually is, especially from the lead actor who barely leaves our sight during the entire film. Jack O’Connell’s ability to portray a variety of complex emotions is truly impressive, to the point where it’s not hard to imagine him as the next Tom Hardy. Sean Harris gives a chilling performance as undercover Captain Sandy Browning, who is double dealing and eager to get Gary out of his way. Barry Keoghan plays Sean Bannon, a young member of the IRA splinter group trying to come to terms with the idea of having to killing in order to defend his community. His character parallels the internal struggle we see in Gary, showing that the war was not easy or pleasant for either side, no matter the justification for pushing forward.
Despite the very specific point in history, the film has a timeless quality to it, which is why it appeals to so many audiences. It could be a civil warzone anywhere, at any time. The trauma and heartbreak is the same, no matter what side of the conflict you’re on.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 100 minutes
’71 is screening in Australian cinemas from 19th March 2015