The course of a single night can alter your life in a plethora of ways. Those changes can be good or bad, but either way, they can be caused by events that you couldn’t forget regardless of how hard you try to. In Yann Demange’s ’71, we witness such a night containing such events that are powerful enough to transform a young soldier who is taking on his first real tour of duty.
Back in the early 1970’s, a violent battle raged on between the Protestant heavy unionist group and the Catholic filled nationalist regime in Northern Ireland. No matter what side you found yourself on, it was a dangerous period for anyone. That’s especially true in Northern Ireland’s capital, the city of Belfast. With the kind of trouble that these factions were having, it was determined that bringing British military forces in was the only way to keep things under control at points.
For the mobs involved in the violence, the presence of armed forces were a source of agitation met with gunshots, riots and an occasional molotov cocktail if things went wrong. It doesn’t sound like a desirable situation to be in, but for a young soldier like Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), it was a chance to get in on some legitimate action. One would imagine that he’s excited and nervous about being on duty with his squad, but when he’s accidentally abandoned, the excitement and nerves quickly turn to fear and an insatiable appetite to survive.
In ’71, I was anticipating a movie with a pace that’s far more frenetic than what is actually delivered. Instead of a picture featuring an insanely rapid pace, we bear witness something that’s running at a speed that the average movie goer is going to be far more familiar with. For someone who loves fast moving movies, that is fairly disappointing to me, but it doesn’t take away from the quality of the feature itself.
It’s more of a dramatic film that includes characters who are susceptible to the occasional acts of violence depending on the circumstances that they find themselves in. Much of what is seen taking place is information being passed on, planning being done and some constant worrying about a soldier being left behind after a simple assignment turns out to be more complicated due to the emotional state of some of the people involved.
One element that I didn’t see coming in ’71 comes from the lack of dialog from Jack O’Connell’s Gary Hook. Yeah, he’s technically the centerpiece of it all, but he doesn’t really say much through much of the film. In truth, it’s hard to even say that he is asked to carry the film in many facets. There are times where the story seems to forget about him. That’s especially true when the plot is being set up and the other characters are being established.
Much of those features serve as the foundation of ’71 when you’re being realistic about it. As it turns out, the other characters play a far more prominent role than I originally figured they would. You can even say that the plot is driven by them far more than it is by O’Connell. This turns the film from a potentially action filled experience to a drama with significant elements of a taut political thriller.
Mind you, this is not a complaint on my end. The movie itself actually has some depth because of the decision to travel in this direction. Handling it this way gives ’71 the opportunities it needs to lay everything out in a way that’s very descriptive. It’s almost as if we’re giving the chance to get an intimate view of these crucial interactions between these guys over the course of this frightening night.
If they would have relied only on O’Connell’s portion of the film, this would have been over fairly quickly. Not only does he not talk much, he doesn’t have a ton of things to do when you think about him being surrounded by a group of men who want him dead. He does have scenes where he’s an active participant in what’s going on, but there’s also a large chunk of down time for him. Listening in on these other guys gives the filmmakers a chance to provide enough for this to stretch into an actual feature film.
Although it it doesn’t turn out to be the kind of movie one may think it’s going to be, ’71 is still a healthy slice of engaging cinema. With what looks to be a small budget and a straight forward approach to storytelling, it effectively makes use of what it has and produces a satisfying example of filmmaking. It turns out that ’71 does what many films are unable to do. It’s able to stretch itself out without becoming boring and tedious.
Director: Yann Demange
Film Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Distributor: Roadside Attractions