The Irish film ’71 likely owes its large platform release to Angelina Jolie, whose Unbroken made Jack O’Connell an almost instant household name. With a significantly smaller budget and a first time feature film director, ’71 packs a more powerful punch than you might expect. Connell, however, is once again fighting for his life, this time not in a true story but as a fictional character maneuvering a very real war during civil unrest in North Ireland. At its core ’71 is a suspense thriller; the graphic and often gruesome content makes it feel more like a horror movie, especially when O’Connell’s character must stay quiet to evade his enemy. It is an impressive low key Irish film that should offer familiar faces to fans of Calvary.

     Fresh out of general training, Gary Hook (O’Connell) and his fellow regimen of soldiers are sent to Belfast, where a civil war rages between the Protestant community (in favor of remaining with the UK) and the Catholics (in favor of independence). They are sent to the battle lines to assist the local officers as they trace down weapons in civilian homes. The situation escalates out of control very quickly, the soldiers are forced to retreat and Hook is abandoned to survive in the street until his regiment can return. He must outrun violent young IRA members, find refuge with non-partisan citizens and decipher who is actually the corrupt party betraying even his own military. His survival will depend on keen observations, one hostile little boy and a lot of luck.

O’Connell’s performance isn’t as powerful as what his character stands for, yet he demonstrates an appealing venerability with his eyes.

     There is something jarring about seeing such violent behavior in young children. ’71 embeds the viewer in a disturbing period of time. It’s brutal from both sides, and from the viewpoint of young Hook, we wonder why anyone would want to live in Ireland during the time period. We follow Hook through a brief training montage as the story explodes with Hook literally running for his life. The cinematography, sound editing and score really amplify the disparity of Hook’s situation and visually diagnose the dire circumstance. The center of the film is the weakest as Hook is injured and the script focuses more on the manipulation between ranks and jurisdictions; Hook’s character becomes a thorn almost all sides need eliminated.

     O’Connell’s performance isn’t as powerful as what his character stands for, yet he demonstrates an appealing venerability with his eyes. The script has his character briefly interacting with various characters representing various viewpoints, helping the viewer understand the madness of the era. The most unforgettable is a potty mouthed, underage boy who has been left to the devices of war. The script does make a point to showcase citizens during the 1971 rebellion that want peace and disagree with the violence altogether. It’s a film as much about corruption as it is war and violence.

Final Thought

Suspenseful and taught, the violence is visually affecting.


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