Set amidst The Troubles, ’71 is a tale of survival. What begins as a story about a platoon, who are posted to Belfast in an attempt to support the people living on some of the effected streets of Northern Ireland, soon turns into the story of one individual and his struggle to survive on the very lanes and roads he has come to protect. When Gary Hook is separated from his unit, he is instantly on the run – sprinting down alleys and avenues that only lead him to more trouble. He and his fellow soldiers are outsiders from the start; hated for being British, for being soldiers and for trying to help in a fight they know nothing about. This is a war of the people; people who despise the army’s input. We follow Hook on his journey through the streets of Northern Ireland as he relies on the help of people who don’t like him and whom he has no choice but to trust. ’71 is all about borders. Hook is trapped between two rivalling districts of Northern Ireland whilst other characters he meets are stranded between ethical and moral borders, unsure as to which side is right and in which side they believe. Here, fear reigns and it takes real courage to place your trust in the hands of strangers. At its heart, ’71 is about human nature and the importance of friendship in times of immense suffering and violence. The film’s greatest triumph is its decision to remain in between said borders. Despite its deeply political backdrop, ’71 refuses to take sides or delve into the religious, political or social issues that defined The Troubles. It focuses solely on Hook, his terror, his determination and the mercy he seeks in the strangers whose company he finds himself in.
The film’s central performance comes from rising talent Jack O’Connell, who has already proved himself in several projects over the last few years. He fits easily into rough and solitary characters such as this but has managed to successful shake off his automatic association with Channel 4’s Skins, the angsty teen-drama series that first brought him to our attention. O’Connell could have quite easily made a mediocre career out of playing hard-men in mediocre films. For a short while he did, in the likes of trash such as Eden Lake and the under-whelming Harry Brown. As time has gone on, and O’Connell matured, it is pleasing to see him striving for an impressive career built on works of versatility and realism. His portrayal of Gary Hook is a solid one. He is understated for the most part but powerful when it is required. He carries enough weight on his shoulders to give him an underlying aggression that he takes out on the least deserving people – a reflection of the lasting results of his experience in Belfast. ’71 soon becomes a gritty game of cat and mouse in which the fighting is all dirty. There are multiple groups and organisations on the hunt for Hook, all with numerous intentions. Just like Hook, we don’t know who to trust in this gripping film about revenge, violence, honour and the effects all three have on the human psyche. ’71 is far from joyful in nature but utterly thrilling and courageous in its direction and delivery.
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