Wow. Almost a lock, to be included in my 2015 Top Ten films of the year, “’71” is a harrowing Northern Island period actioner, set in Belfast at the height of “the Troubles” in 1971. It’s an almost unbearably tense movie, that also managed to break my heart on, at least, two occasions, with its melancholy focus on the bond between two brothers. Star Jack O’Connell made a bit of a splash here in 2014, portraying Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-bait hit adaptation, “Unbroken”. I didn’t like that film very much, but O’Connell emerged unscathed. “’71” was actually playing the festival circuit in select cities before “Unbroken” made its official nationwide bow. “’71” finally got a limited official release here this past winter, and Yann Demange’s debut feature is easily the superior work.

Gary Hook (the excellent Mr. O’Connell) is a British Army soldier, and the caretaker of his adolescent brother, Darren. When his squad is sent to Belfast, during an extremely volatile period in Northern Ireland, he pledges to Darren that he will return. Thrown into the center of a city in a perpetual state of unrest, Hook, and his unit, search the Belfast homes for firearms, in an area where both Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists reside. The situation quickly rises to a head as a protest group of Catholics begin to provoke the British troops. Rapidly escalating out-of-control, Hook and a fellow soldier are separated from the squad. When his companion is executed, at point-blank range by a young Nationalist, Hook is on-the-run in an area of bomb-building freedom fighters, and gun-toting adolescents.

There are a few scenes of violence and carnage in this film, that almost make you want to turn away. Instead I remained transfixed and sobered by the depravity that fellow human beings are capable of inflicting on each other. I have some, but limited, understanding of the tumult in Belfast in the latter part of the 20th century. Would I call “71” realistic? Yeah…as far as my inexperienced eye can ascertain, sure. There are some wonderful naturalistic performances here, from actors like Richard Dormer as Eamon, Charlie Murphy as Brigid, and Killian Scott as James Quinn. The period flavor reeks of authenticity, and the chases and action sequences are expertly staged. All of it is aided by a fine, minimalist screenplay, by Scottish playwright Gregory Burke–making his feature film debut. “’71” is outright marvelous.

Grade:  A


8 comments on “’71

  1. I really like this movie. Jack O’Connell is an actor with a terrific future.

  2. Reblogged this on MDellert-dot-Com and commented:
    In my opinion, one of the best films of recent times, particularly on the matter of The Troubles. As an American of Irish descent and a student of the 800 year history of the Angl0-Irish Conflict, I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to make a movie about the events in Belfast in 1971. Irish Republicans and Irish Loyalists at the throats of one another (naturally, because they’re Irish and have no other worthy opponents), with the occupying British Army trying hard to keep the peace between the two factions. It’s a rare film that doesn’t privilege one side over the other and still manages to keep the sympathy of the audience. ’71 is that film. Our sympathy for the protagonist isn’t based on his nationality or factional affiliation, but on his love for his brother, and the fear that any soldier has that he might not come home from his latest assignments. The oppression of the Catholics is palpable, and corruption and double-dealing are rampant on all sides as they each try to deal with their devils to keep the fragile peace. It’s a movie that shows that there are no heroes and no winners in a civil strife, a poignant lesson in our own Troubled times. Very glad to see your positive review, Mark! 🙂

    • Wow! I love it that you were so taken by this film, and that I gave it an ‘A’ rating Mike! Thank you for your extremely insightful comment, and I’m so pleased that we were both so impressed with it. ML

      • I had my reservations before I saw it. Being Catholic Irish, I’d just as soon see a Brit soldier in Northern Ireland kneecapped as not. But the writers and director did a great job of presenting a balanced view of the conflict. It wasn’t “Behind Enemy Lines: Brit in Belfast” with a jingoistic, pro-Loyalist slant, as it might have been. And the authenticity was palpable: the warrens of tunnels behind building facades, the torch-wielding mobs, the children and their role in the conflict, the sectarian checkpoints, the old Catholic ladies beating pots and pans on the sidewalks to alert the neighborhood to the arrival of the soldiers. Definitely worthy of an “A” rating. 😉

  3. If you want to see an even more harrowing film starring O’Connell (and Michael Fassbender), check out Eden Lake.

  4. Thanks for the insightful commentary, Mike. Different style of film, but I’m wondering how you felt about, “In the Name of the Father”. ML

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