Welcome to Belfast in ’71. The historical, bloody years known as the Troubles have taken over the city, not to mention all of Northern Ireland. In a world where kids arm themselves with weapons and wit, and young boys become soldiers, no one is safe. Young British actor Jack O’Connell (most famous for his roles in Skins and Angelina Jolie's Christmas hit Unbroken) is immediately recognizable as the film's protagonist Gary Hook. O'Connell's performance as a lost British soldier from the other side who must fight to stay alive is as mesmerizing as it is compelling.
Like any great film, Demange's protagonists, slaves to a divided and dangerous city conquered by bombs and riots, speak to the viewer. Hook may not speak much, but his journey will inevitably warrant sympathy and an immediate rapport. Certain scenes come to mind: when his partner dies in his arms, when he is crouched down in a shack, realizing that his unit abandoned him and that he is left alone to fight in dark, empty streets. The portrayal of locals is two–fold, making the situation in Belfast even more complex and ambiguous. Local strangers, both kids and adult, help Hook as much as possible despite the immense danger it brings to them. Others suffer from the realities of war, when innocent lives are inevitably lost and senseless or selfish violence triumphs.
’71 is a historical movie about events that have been documented before, and yet, director Yann Demange brings them into light with a new perspective and stunning aesthetic elements. Known for his experience in short films and TV, Demange offers his viewer a film whose expertise is anything but one of a first-timer. Demange conquers common challenges that can inundate these types of films. Often, the extremely sensitive topic of war and combat is expressed through content that is overdone, unrealistic, or unnecessarily gory. Instead, ’71 evokes the more human aspects of fighters on all sides, painting a picture that is as touching as it is suspenseful.
Street attended a screening for ’71 at the MARC during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.