“’71” is a 2014 film that follows a British soldier’s night after a riot separates him from his squad in Belfast.
In a foreign city terrorized by a deep feud, new recruit Hook simply tries to get back to his barracks alive.
The Troubles, the historical foundation for this film, were the prevalent years of the feud over the British occupation of Northern Ireland: Against the occupation, Irish Catholics and their more radical parts making up the Irish Republican Army; for it, British paramilitaries and protestant loyalists.
It’s a feud whose history can be traced to previous wars. With such an emotional premise, it’s surprising “’71” chose to be an action film.
The early ’70s brought some of the largest tragedies of The Troubles, including 1972’s Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday later that same year.
Why, then, with such a deep and emotional source material, did they make up a fictional fast-paced plot, and worse, one that doesn’t even take time to examine the motives of two real groups?
This flaw probably stems from the movie’s status as an action thriller.
In the first ten minutes, the movie appears to be preparing to become a gritty historical drama.
I was hoping “’71” would do for British recruits what “Bloody Sunday” did for protesters and give their side of the story by displaying their humanity.
This sense is strongest in the first riot scene, but dwindles.
When the film begins in earnest, however, it shows its true colors as a chase through the streets ensues, inspiring more excitement than reflection.
One of the reasons this movie still works is Jack O’Connell’s performance as Hook. He acts with a mixture of vulnerability and a will to survive, making him a believable protagonist who we want to succeed.
Everyone else puts in great performances as well, whether as naive recruits, irate citizens, people just looking to get by or otherwise.
There’s a multitude of antagonists who seem to hold endless, mindless rage towards their opposition in the city.
All the characters can be pretty easily read, which helps in a movie whose characters must be taken at face value for lack of explanations or motives.
Though it wasted its material on an action thriller, “’71” is a reasonably pleasing action thriller. Relative to others of its genre, it is reserved, with action scenes mostly grounded in realism.
Although there are a few too many twists and turns, it is entertaining to see suspicious characters tip-toe around each other and opposite factions. The setting of war-torn Belfast looks beautifully authentic throughout as a city falling apart.
If you want a drama examining the IRA’s dehumanizing radical methods, the civil war’s pinning of brother against brother or the conviction of those against British occupation, see “The Crying Game,” “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” or “Hunger,” respectively.
If you want an enjoyable thriller you might not remember two weeks later, see “’71.”