Dir: Yann Demange
Top Boy director Yann Demange‘s debut thriller sees a young soldier, (busy boy Jack O’Connell) deployed to the bombed out streets of Belfast with an inexperienced platoon. After a tense standoff on the Falls Road during a door to door search the terrified Derby lad finds himself cut off from his squad and on the run behind enemy lines. Wounded but determined (a state which O’Connell has proven himself a deft hand at in films like Starred Up and Angelina Jolie’s Oscar contender Unbroken) he limps off into set piece after set piece as the long night draws on.
Standing back from the complicated politics inherent in the conflict which still persist today Demange instead sets about building a nerve shredding man on the run thriller. The apocalyptic vision of Belfast is brilliantly real and the young director leaves hardly a breath of rest; Everyone in ´71 is fighting against something. Corruption in the ranks is rampant on both sides. Head to heads between a group of young IRA upstarts on the hunt and their older leader are mirrored within the British barracks walls with an excellent performance from Sam Reid as Lt. Armitage who finds himself butting heads with inside man Captain Browning (Sean Harris) as they rush to find their lost man.
But for the most part it’s O’Connell’s frantic young paratrooper Gary Hook that we are stuck with; Trapped inside a situation he barely understands he must choose his friends carefully. “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” he’s asked by a young boy, “I’m not sure.” is the honest and poignant reply. Demange is certainly sure of what he is and ’71 stands up as a brilliant exercise in pacing, surprise and tension which smartly distances itself from a in-depth examination of one of the most complex civil situations in recent history. Another cracking performance from O’Connell and an explosive debut from a seriously talented director.