Release: Friday, February 27, 2015 (limited) 


Written by: Gregory Burke

Directed by: Yann Demange

The price to pay for sitting through a film fixating on the tensions peaking between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971 may very well be sacrificing a good night’s sleep.

Titling the experience ’71, Parisian-born Yann Demange strips away pomp and circumstance, electing to pursue a simpler approach to capturing a period in British and Irish history that will at once thrill and disturb willing onlookers. Suffice it to say his film is not for the faint of heart, and it is not for the average thrill seeker. Few films in the last several years have produced tension so unbearable that breathing must be constantly kept in check.

Sensational sell? Maybe.

I find it sort of appropriate to become a little over-excited when talking about a story that so effectively hones its power by depicting wartime atrocity by establishing how so many individuals can become warped by ideological differences. ’71 remains neutral in its depiction of a young British soldier named Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) who one afternoon is fortuitously separated from his company when a riot breaks out in the streets of war-torn Belfast and is forced to fend for himself when pursued by a group of young Nationalists down back alleys and through hostile apartment complexes.

My comment about neutrality shouldn’t be misconstrued as a director afraid to show bias one way or another, nor should it be extrapolated to the film as a whole as a thematic concept. In fact, ’71‘s greatest strength — one of them, anyway — is defining the realities by which Hook is unwittingly psychologically raped time and again. Everyone has an agenda, a purpose for their actions (or non-actions); to some degree every major player is justified in what they are doing to another. And the young soldier, hailing from Derbyshire, has only one interest: staying alive so he might get back to his barracks. Siding with one group or another is something he can ill afford while being hunted.

The ostensible good guys — that is, the British Army — are concerned with Hook insofar as his disappearance poses a threat to their assistance with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its efforts to stamp out pockets of heavy resistance in hostile communities like Belfast. Indeed, when a near-fatally-wounded Hook manages to survive a bomb explosion just outside a pub, a stronghold for one of several Loyalist factions, he’s reminded by his miraculous savior — a former Army medic named Eamon (Richard Dormer) — that to the government, Gary is but a piece of meat. To consider his plight hopeless on the grounds that he is now physically weaker is to sidestep the small issue that several Nationalist extremists, led by the ruthless, influential James Quinn (Killian Scott) have been enraged by the fact they had a chance to kill him point-blank during the earlier riot but failed to do so.

Nevermind the fact that Hook’s disorientation deep within enemy territory impairs his ability to trust any shadowy figure he encounters at each street corner, in each room he lands in through happenstance or sheer will. The majority of ’71 takes place over the course of a single night on the streets of a place not dissimilar from what Hell may look like; the ghoulish characters interpreted by Irish and British actors haunt with human skin concealing something decidedly less human. Conflicting interests both confound and dismay those who aren’t shielding their eyes from the grotesque bodily injury and breakdown of civil order. ’71 is a terribly violent film, but in that way it’s unforgettable. Cinematography, brooding and menacing in the hands of Tat Radcliffe, contributes mightily to a growing sense of unease. And the acting, particularly from O’Connell, speaks for itself.

This period into which we are thrust alongside Gary Hook are known as the early years of ‘The Troubles,’ a period that endures for nearly 30 years, beginning in 1969. What this young man goes through is certainly harrowing but ’71 suggests something even more troubling: this story is ultimately microcosmic. How many others, soldiers or otherwise, disappeared without a trace, were betrayed by their own and left to fend for themselves but didn’t have quite the same ending Hook’s story has? And we’re still talking about one nation here; a single conflict.

Although Demange doesn’t profess anything radical about how governments react to crises and how it treats those who go to fight for it in times of great need, he doesn’t need to. Simplistic in narrative structure but emotionally complex as any war film that has ever been created, ’71 is brutal, handsomely crafted and potently acted. It will be one of the best films of the year.


4-5Recommendation: I’d have to dig deep to find the strength to sit through ’71 a second time but if you haven’t seen it and find war films an important staple of cinema as I do, you owe it to yourself to see this — in theaters. I haven’t been this uncomfortable in my chair in some time, a testament to the level of acting, directing and cinematography that work towards this goal of accurately recreating a troubled time in the history of this particular region of the world. Highly recommended.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “. . .it was a confused situation.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

29 thoughts on “’71

  1. Pingback: Bite Sized Reviews: Bottle Rocket; Hunger; The Signal; The Interview | digitalshortbread

  2. Brilliant review Tom, that’s some high praise you gave this movie. Sounds like it’s worth all the praise though, I desperately need to watch this movie.


  3. Just got a copy of this. Will double back and check out your review after I’ve watched it. Glad you really enjoyed it. Thanks man!


  4. I loved this one. It screened at a film festival last year ot early this year, but I fogrgot to write about it haha!. It opens here this or next week, I look forward to seeing it again. I liked it very much

    Nice write btw, I agree with ya pretty much on all accounts. Tho I’ve forgotten enough of the movie by now that when I get to see it again it’ll feel almost brand new to me 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay!!!!!!!! I like hearing that it sits well with you too dude. And I applaud you for deciding to go and watch it again. It was brutal enough for me to say I’m glad I did it once and not try it out again. It was so goddamn intense man.

      Nothing to do with the quality of the pic (I loved it from a critical perspective) but from a general “enjoyment” point of view, I don’t think I could put myself through it again. But we’re in agreement; this is a solid bit of film. It’ll be hard to knock it down my list of year-end favorites come December I think. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah can definetely hear where you are coming from. Though this is the sort of shit I thrive on. I love stuff that can legit unsettle me. Myterious Skin is one of my favourite movies, one of the very very few films that have legit made me uncomfortable. Its a short list, I’d love it to be bigger.
        And yeah critcally you can’t really dig at it, only issue for me was accents at times but I got the jist of it. I’m looking forward to seeing it again cos seriously I have forgotten so much ahaha


        • hahaha you dipshit. Got a laugh outta me 🙂

          I just looked at the flyer, no damned date. I think on the website its this or next month. Thought a shitload of stuff just came out today, so I’m swamped for choice atm. ‘Tis a nice change!

          Liked by 1 person

    • I’d have to generally disagree with that comment Good Sir. It remained taut, thrilling and focused. But thanks for stopping in bud. Always appreciated.


  5. I’ve not seen this one yet – but this afternoon I will will. Loved your passion for the film as well as the terrific review.

    You mentioned the future difficulties that could arise if you sat down to watch this one again -and that made me think of other films (on the topic) that have affected me.

    How’s this for a four pack –

    2014 – ’71

    2008 – Hunger – directed by Steve McQueen
    1996 – Michael Collins – starring Liam Neeson
    1994 – In The Name of the Father – starring Daniel Day-Lewis

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU Mike! Yeah, ’71 is a difficult experience to sit through once, let alone twice. I am yet to get to McQueen’s Hunger but I’m anticipating it being tough too. Though in my opinion few get more challenging than his magnum opus 12 Years a Slave. What a doozy that one was!

      I’ll have to swing by your site soon.


    • Chris I don’t want to oversell anything but I firmly believe the wait will well be worth it. ’71 is extraordinary. Probably not one I’d voluntarily sit through again and again, but I felt privileged to be able to see it. And I’m relatively unfamiliar with Jack O’Connell, but damn the kid has talent. Makes me want to actually watch Unbroken now


  6. Cracking review Tom, and not simply for the fact that I agree with the general goodwill towards it! That said ’71 was in my list of favourites from last year, and I think it has been somewhat under-appreciated, so it’s great to read more praise for this film; hopefully it will encourage more people to go and see it.

    Anyway, I think your points on neutrality are interesting. This is tough, touchy subject matter, and I think it’s quite an achievement for a French-born, English director to handle the film and the various factions as delicately as Demange does. Although we are asked to side with an individual character from the British Army, this clearly isn’t a propaganda piece in favour of the armed forces; there’s so much in-fighting, duplicity and wanton violence among the Army, the IRA and the RUC in the film no-one comes out smelling of roses.

    Hard to leave the political aspect to one side, but purely in terms of thrills I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of it. That chase through the streets and houses near the start is brilliant.


    • Hey stu thanks for the very thoughtful response to this piece. I tell ya, I struggled with how I wanted to approach s review. for this. Given my utter ignorance for war history, and particularly for this region, I felt perhaps this review would be taken the wrong way. I’m glad you’ve given thought to the neutral stance comment I make; although ultimately I don’t know if my point was made well enough.

      I wanted to compliment Demange on not getting painting O’Connell’s soldier as a very complex individual. He was a sort of neutral party to what was going on, given especially the fact he was accidentally abandoned by his own company in that riot. I was mortified watching how so many people were out for him, and not for his protection. An incredible film and situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was an incredibly complex situation. Can you believe that despite the fact this was going on when I was a kid, and involved my country, nothing about the war was taught in school?! I know a bit more now due to what I’ve read, but it’s weird when I look back at that.
        Anyway – great point about the neutrality of the character; he’s likeable and I think the way they establish his own ignorance of the war at the start is pretty important. I guess some might argue that focusing on a new recruit is a simplistic way of absolving the main character of any blame for the war, but I think the director’s right to tread carefully.


  7. Yes yes yes!! 100% with you on this. O’Connell is a real star in the making isn’t he? This was very well received here in the UK as you might expect. Did you feel there was a nod to John Carpenter here? I did, which in my book makes it even better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Man I need to watch more John Carpenter, I totally didn’t pick up on that at all but that’s excellent to hear as well.

      ’71 was incredible. I didn’t expect to come out of it shaken to the core as I was. Such a potent film and although I’m not likely to sit through it again I’m very glad I’ve had the opportunity to catch this. Unfortunately I can also see it disappearing from our indie/arthouse theater in a matter of days. I was the only person in the theater. 😦


    • Wow, thank you so much for such kind thoughts. I just love to write about movies. And I guess writing in general is okay, too. 😉


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