Cast: Jack O’Connell, Charlie Murphy, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Killian Scott, Martin McCann, David Wilmot, Richard Dormer.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Set in the chaotic world of Northern Ireland during the peak of the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, ‘71 is the very definition of heart in your throat intense. The entire film is a single continuous story about a British soldier (O’Connell), who gets left behind during the search of Catholic homes. From there he is hunted like an animal as he must traverse the dangerous streets of Belfast with the hope of returning to his barracks.
The lone survivor in hostile territory is a tale that has been used many times before, but rarely has it been done so effectively. Demange gives us one of the best British action thrillers of all time as he carefully crafts a film which confidently and respectfully treads the line between entertainment and terrifying reality. Danger rings true throughout the entire film, and like O’Connell’s Gary Hook, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar territory.
To emphasise the realism, we’re treated to some of the best use of naturalistic lighting and gritty cinematography of recent times. It never looks or feels amateurish or too much like a documentary, but it intentionally employs a lack of polish which makes the events feel all too real. The violence is sudden and the reactions believable. Further increasing the unavoidable feeling of dread and panic is the fact that the lines between friends and foe become suitably blurred. Demange has no intention of placing blame or elevating people to hero status, but instead creates a world of absolute madness. You get the sense that even some of the characters have no idea of what they’re fighting for, or underestimate the repercussions of their actions. A repeated line throughout is describing the events as “a confused situation”, which sums up the tone of the film perfectly.
With this and STARRED UP, O’Connell has truly made 2014 his year. He’s a genuine star, and despite the fact he is always on the move and shell shocked, he gets to the core of his character. He’s an average man doing his job with little understanding of just how bad things will get. We also see some astonishing supporting performances from some of the UK and Ireland’s top talent. Cold villains in the form of Harris and Scott are to be remembered and feared throughout.
‘71 doesn’t get bogged down in politics, although they are always present. It humanises such conflict and reminds us that when ideals and beliefs are pushed to one side, it’s the individual people who suffer in the end. Making us feel so much for the characters, while having the plot in a constant state of forward movement is truly the work of a multitasker supreme. Demange expertly uses the camera to his advantage, giving us frantic chases through abandoned houses, and shaken and blurry shots after big explosions. Ironically though, it is when ‘71 is at its quietest when the heart truly starts beating.
The film is an incredible achievement on all accounts. I can’t remember the last time my hand involuntarily shot towards my mouth in shock, or when a film last made me dig my nails into my leg so deep. It’s gripping, shocking, and a reminder of how powerful cinema can be. Britain needs more films like this. A breathtaking film from start to finish.
[usr=5] ‘71 is available to buy now on Blu-ray and DVD. Pick it up here.