’71 (UK, 2014)

seventy_oneDirected by: Yann Demange. Considering how much I like to keep an eye on representations of Ireland and the Troubles in film, it took me a surprisingly long time to take a look at this one. This is a very good film. It’s a simple concept, and the film pulls it off masterfully. For the most part, we’re right there alongside Private Hook for the majority of the film, our sensibilities closely mirroring him and his subjectivity as he tries to navigate this dangerous terrain of residential Belfast. But the film is smart enough to also take us away from that subjectivity, to take a look at the other players in this complex political situation. We get to see the shady Special Forces cops played by Sean Harris and Paul Anderson, we get to see the untrustworthy moderate IRA guy David Wilmot, we get to see the doctor and his daughter discussing their situation outside of Hook’s presence. Basically, this film gives us the claustrophobia of Hook’s situation in enough of a dose to really care about him, but it also gives us the bigger picture, the stuff he doesn’t know, to raise the stakes even higher. And just at the point where maybe the film risks taking a real-life political situation and turning it into some mindless chase thriller, the film pulls it all together and grounds the story in reality. And I think that element that grounds it, that keeps it from being a mindless thriller, is the kids—first the foul-mouthed little 10-year-old Belfast kid who leads Hook to the pub where the bomb blast tragically rips him apart, and then the older kid, around 13 or 14, who’s there to fire the final shot to save Hook before he is himself taken down as an enemy combatant. That kid, Barry Keoghan, was kind of the glue that held it together, because he looks like he could be that kid. Everyone in this movie was amazing and everything—tip of the hat to Jack O’Connell of course—but especially that kid. As with all of these movies about Ireland and the Troubles, I feel like I’m one bad sentence away from totally stuffing my foot in my mouth, tromping all over a delicate situation like a clueless Canadian. That being said, this movie appears to be, from my eyes, a pretty smart navigation of two difficult things—conveying the subjectivity of being a British a soldier stranded in a territory where your uniform is a death mark for most of the population, and also conveying the full weight of the fact that this territory is their territory, and that Hook is a member of an outside occupying force. That is a fact that can be lost on some movies (off the top of my head, Fifty Dead Men Walking). So that’s nice.

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One response to “’71 (UK, 2014)

  1. Pingback: Starred Up (UK, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

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