’71

’71

2011, R, 99 min. Directed by Yann Demange. Starring Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann, Charlie Murphy, Sam Reid, Killian Scott, David Wilmot, Jack Lowden, Jim Sturgeon, Corey McKinley.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 13, 2015

Yann Demange’s debut feature is a ferociously kinetic chase movie as well as a white-knuckled piece of profoundly moving (in every sense of the word) filmmaking, but a bit of background may be in order for Yank audiences. Belfast in 1971 wasn’t on anyone’s dream vacation-destination list, although it’s not hard to imagine World’s Most Dangerous Places author/adventurer/maniac Robert Young Pelton eying the Provisional Irish Republican Army stronghold and booking a flight. Adventure tourism aside, though, the vicious urban warfare – or terrorism, depending on one’s allegiances – that convulsed parts of Northern Ireland beginning in the late Sixties was a bloody, nightmarish affair that lasted for about 30 years and is known as the Troubles. British security forces and army sought to contain the expanding violence between the unionist Protestants and the nationalist, republican Catholics who sought to break away from the United Kingdom.

O’Connell, recently seen in Unbroken, is the raw, young, and ultimately naive British Pvt. Gary Hook, who is sent with his squad to Belfast under the command of the very much in-over-his-head Lt. Armitage (Reid). Almost immediately, things go horrifically awry, as a seemingly simple guarding action performed in conjunction with the local police ends up with one young soldier’s brains blown out by an IRA assassin. Instantly, a mob forms, Hook’s gun is grappled away from him by a young boy, Hook gives chase, and ends up savagely beaten and trapped behind enemy lines. All of this happens in about a five-minute span onscreen, but it’s just the start of Hook’s own troubles. With ruthless IRA leader Quinn (Scott) in hot pursuit, Hook attempts to make his way back to his squad, a nearly impossible task given the endless maze of claustrophobic back alleys and potential civilian assailants that bar his way.

Innocence not merely lost but totally obliterated is the looming subtext of ’71. Director Demange pointedly opens his film with Pvt. Hook saying goodbye to his little boy and assuring the child that “nothing bad will happen.” Later, Hook is rescued by a scrappy, 10-year-old street urchin who leads him to the relative safety of a unionist pub. But “safety” is an illusion in Belfast, ’71, and Hook is soon on his own again, and wounded as well.

There have been other impressive films about the Troubles (1984’s Cal, The Crying Game, and Bloody Sunday, among them), but ’71 is just plain relentless and visceral. A perfectly paranoiac score by David Holmes and downright stunning camerawork, courtesy of cinematographer Tat Radcliffe, enhance and embody Hook’s manic flight. Take the politics out and you’d still have a powerhouse action film. But please, don’t take the politics out.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Yann Demange Films
White Boy Rick
A true-life tale of coke, corruption, and betrayal

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 14, 2018

More by Marc Savlov
The Marksman
Liam Neeson is the action man again in this border thriller

Jan. 15, 2021

Beautiful Something Left Behind
The hard path to healing when kids suffer a death in the family

Jan. 8, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

’71, Yann Demange, Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann, Charlie Murphy, Sam Reid, Killian Scott, David Wilmot, Jack Lowden, Jim Sturgeon, Corey McKinley

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle