’71 is an action/thriller film set in Belfast in 1971. We follow the story of a young soldier who is accidentally left behind by his unit amidst the chaos of a riot. His unit leaves and he is left in the dangerous streets of Belfast all alone and vulnerable, amongst people who want nothing more than to kill him. The film stars Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Jack Lowden, Paul Popplewell, Adam Nagaitis and Joshua Hill. ’71 is directed by Yann Demange and the screenplay comes written by Gregory Burke.
As a film which is based in a period that will often be studied for its events and will likely be an important part of the history of Belfast, it’s interesting to see what things were like during this period. Not knowing much about the historical context for the events going on the streets, it’s difficult for me to say if it’s accurate or not. But it doesn’t really matter so much as this seems to me to be something that anyone could really watch and then can look into the history later if they become more curious.
’71 is really a film based around the survival of one soldier left behind in a very dangerous place. It’s filled with people who are hostile towards our soldier Gary (Jack O’Connell) and he really does struggle to survive. The music played throughout the film really does add to the tenseness of the situation and things get dark and gritty fairly quick. ’71 is a fairly decent thriller and the action sequences are well shot.
As we mainly just watch Gary the soldier run around and try to survive, there isn’t that much dialogue from our main character, we just watch what he’s up to. He does say a few things here and there, but we mainly listen to other side characters. There are quite a few conflicting groups of people who share completely different views on what to do with the British soldier who is lost in Belfast. Each character had their own motivations for what must be done, whether they are in the army, some IRA guys, some street thugs or just a good citizen trying to help out. In this area, probably knowing the context and the history behind the IRA and the English would help out a lot when it comes to why they are odds with each other, but that’s also one of the things that people can look into after they’re done with ’71.
The directing from Yann Demange was quite good and as mentioned the film does have a very tense tone. ’71 starts off quite strongly and has a strong ending, but towards the middle part of the film, around the 45-60 minute mark, the pacing slows right down and I got a bit bored with it. But the film certainly makes up for it in the end of it all. I’ve watched this film twice now and the characters are all quite interesting and it’s really great how Yann Demange has managed to do this, especially since there is such a lack of dialogue. I suppose there is the history that helps a lot, but still, the film manages to keep the viewer engaged and it leaves the viewer with many questions to explore in the end. It’s not the best story you’ll ever get in a film, it’s more that it has an interesting setting to observe and think about, that’s its strongest point.
Those looking for a film that is entirely action based may not get what they’re looking for with this as while it does have quite a few shootouts and violent scenes, this is no Liam Neeson action film or Expendables sequel. There is a lot of build up to a few action sequences which are quite good, but aren’t the point of interest for this film. It’s really about the period and bringing light to things that went on during that time, which seemed like a pretty bad time to live in Belfast to me.
I’m not sure what the local Belfast population would make of this film as they probably have a greater understanding of it and maybe some animosity towards these events, but those who know little probably will just end up curious about it as the film doesn’t go into the details, it just shows us what it was like. In ’71 the viewer is similar to the soldier in a way (as he seemed just thrown in and lost with it all), we’re also thrown into the world of ’71, which we don’t really understand and we just experience through this solders experience.
Overeall ’71 is a great film to rent should you be looking for something to watch this week. I highly recommend giving ’71 a go if you like action thrillers and don’t mind a British film every now and again. Those who like watching historical films will likely enjoy this more than others and it can be good for those to watch who are looking to learn about this time period, or are just a bit curious about Belfast during the 1970’s.