The Assaulting Side of War: A Review of ’71

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 15, 2015
The Assaulting Side of War: A Review of ’71

The horrors of war can be a disorienting thing for anyone, but for a young man sent on his first action to somewhere he didn’t expect, they are about 100 times worse.  ’71 is a grippingly visceral tale that puts into one night in Belfast where the lines between good and bad are as blurry as they will ever be and we as an audience are witness to the birth of a genuine leading man.

It’s a routine patrol in Belfast, 1971 when it all goes wrong for one young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) who separated from his platoon that is forced to retreat when attacked by a group of locals.  In an urban landscape that doesn’t look or sound all that different from his own home, he doesn’t know which way to turn and more importantly who to trust as everyone has their own agenda and the people he sees on the street will just as soon by him a pint as shoot him in the back of the head.

A debut feature from director Yann Demange, ’71 doesn’t just tell us or show us the horrors of war, but it drops us in the middle of the shit as we are gripped to the edge of our seat and this one young man’s fight for survival.

Demange as a director doesn’t ease us into these things, but her rather aggressively throws us into a territory where no one can trust their own neighbour and sometimes even family members.  He presents it all in a gritty, rough and tumble fashion and despite the well minded ideals of some of his superior officers most of these guys will just be hard pressed to survive the surroundings that they have been slammed into.  It moves at a frenetic pace as our young solider Private Hook is be chased through the streets of Belfast, not knowing who is his friend and who is his enemy, and Demange to his credit keeps us on the edge of our seats the entire time as the race for survival just doesn’t stop.

Jack O'Connell in '71

It’s not one of those movies that is rife with dialogue, quite frankly it really doesn’t need to be and that’s why the casting was just so damn pitch perfect.  As the tough yet completely out of his element Private Hook, Jack O’Connell was simply electric.  He didn’t need to have a monologue of how stressed or anxious he was, since we just saw him walk through hell and he wore it all with such dripping emotion that it is a template for people looking to learn how to act by saying, very, very little.  Not too many others popped up as the always wonderful Sean Harris was oozing sleaze as Captain Sandy Browning while others like Sam Reid and Richard Dormer did manage to add some flavor to it all, but it was O’Connell’s movie and he carried it with ease like the upcoming movie star he is.

Not an easy watch, since the senseless violence that has plagued that country seems to have been going on and will still go on for centuries makes it a sad affair.  However, ’71 is the kind of debut feature that you love to see from some up and coming talents and one day when someone gives them a bit of a budget I suspect we are in for something truly special.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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