’71, directed by Yann Demange and starring Jack O’Connell is an intense and at times raw film that expertly drops you in the violent situation of Belfast in 1971. Despite a few missteps on the part of the structuring and some under developed supporting characters in the film, ’71 concisely gets across the story and the message that it wants to tell and with some wonderful camera work, brilliant performances and a realism that this type of film deserves, ’71 certainly delivers a powerful experience.
’71 tells the story of Gary Hook, a British soldier who is accidently abandoned in the streets of Belfast. Left in a place where he is hunted by people who want nothing more than to kill him and rescue seeming unlikely, Hooks must survive by himself in a situation that is worsening by the second and the journey back to safety seems to get longer and more dangerous as time goes on.
Leading the film is Jack O’Connell who plays our main character Gary Hook. As usual O’Connell brings a flawless and meaningful performance to the film, this is an actor who hasn’t disappointed me yet and continues to get better every time I see him. What I think makes him so good and is something that is very apparent in this film is that he fully commits to his role and really makes you believe in the person he is playing. What’s interesting in ’71 is that O’Connell doesn’t have that many lines and doesn’t dominate every scene but he is the most memorable and without a doubt the best part of it, O’Connell does so much more acting than he does speaking in this film, he expresses so much more through his facial reactions or his emotional reactions while very little is what he thinks or says and yet he still effortlessly carries the film.
What I would have liked more of is O’Connell’s character, who doesn’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked, the film instead diverts resources towards some ancillary sub plots that later on play their part but for the most part took away from getting to experience Hooks journey back to safety. I wanted to see more of Hook and his struggle, I wanted to know just a little bit more of who he was, the film gives us a little taster at the beginning of who he is and what drives him but nothing more is really given after that and I think if the film hadn’t devoted so much time on other things we could have really gotten into the mind of Hook and how he was dealing with his difficult life or death situation.
I would have also liked to have seen a supporting cast of characters who were more fleshed out and interesting to follow. The film doesn’t give us much to work with and it does make it difficult to make any real connection with them but then this does tie into my next point and it is one that perhaps highlights why there didn’t need to be such a large supporting cast in the first place.
Frustratingly ’71 attempts to cram in more than is actually necessary. On top of Hooks story of survival there is the back room dealings of the IRA and then there is also the back room dealings of the British army’s higher ups. With both of these interweaving sub plots it means that a lot of time is taken away from Hook and it just didn’t need to be, ’71 could have been a much smaller film in scope and just told the story of a Soldier lost in the dangerous streets of Belfast and with the reliability of O’Connell as its lead it could have certainly worked. I will add that these sub plots aren’t bad to watch and there is something of interest in them it’s just that they over encumber the film and make it much denser than it actually needed to be.
Something that ’71 does perfectly is how it captures the look and feel of a troubled Belfast in 1971 and on top of that how the moment to moment actions on the streets of Belfast are shot with an air of terrifying realism. From a diverse and believable array of side characters who populate this film to the use of hand held style of shooting that puts you directly in the scenes of the film, everything comes together to build a recognisable and real world for this story to exist. I loved the attention to detail and I loved that the film took an unflinching approach to this story and this difficult time in British history, there is a lot of respect to be given to director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke for not watering down the vision that they had for ’71.
So ’71 is a film that comes with some unfortunate flaws but these are flaws that you can look past and see that there is still a great film there. ’71 certainly delivers in a lot of ways and despite its issues is a film that I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with.
That is why I would definitely recommend ’71, this is a film that does not disappoint and is very much one more people should see.