Starring Jack O’Connell, Killian Scott, David Wilmot and Sean Harris
‘71 tells the story of Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), a young British soldier that is left behind by his unit in Belfast after a small riot. We follow hook’s survival to return back to his barracks before he is captured by ruthless Provisional Irish Republican Army members.
Yann Demange is a person that should be on everybody’s ‘directors to look out for’ list. It may come as a surprise to many after viewing ’71 that it is Demange’s cinematic debut (he also directed a large chunk of Channel 4’s acclaimed Top Boy) His great sense of intense urgency is one to be recognised, the sophistication and confidence conveyed in the handling of the material is that of a veteran filmmaker. Demange manages to achieve the near impossible, of creating an informative action packed adrenaline induced film while upholding the political intent and awareness without becoming preachy. The characters are so well developed that they seem to drive the action forward rather than the other way around.
Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of the young, oblivious but determined everyman Gary Hook is one of the best of the year, O’Connell almost makes it seem effortless in going smoothly from naivety to dismay, reflecting Hook’s shocks and revelations through subtle facial expressions and realistic reactions to the horrors and corruption of war.
We see that Hook was attempting to prepare himself for the physical aspect of War but was not ready for the psychological turmoil of it. Although the audience may be knowledgeable of the real-life events that took in Belfast, a sense of hope and peace being at stake is still realistically portrayed and the performances are so convincing one can find themselves rooting for characters with obvious ill-fated destinies.
While most war films tend to show the psychological effects of war on a soldier after the event, Demange and writer Gregory Burke opt out of that general decision and instead demonstrate the immediate consequences and repercussions during the moment. ’71 arguably plays-out like a more politically driven version of Walter Hill’s young gang territory midnight classic The Warriors. The heightened sense of urgency makes the film seem like it is unravelling in real time.
Due to the similar scenario and characterisation one may find ‘71 reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, in particular Martin Sheen’s tour-de force performance of a young soldier experiencing the horrors of war and trying to escape. Compelling, poignant and memorable this is not only one of the best films of the year but one of the most intense cinema experiences I can remember in recent years.