’71 movie review (London Film Festival)
Remember this name: Jack O’Connell. He is magnificent in one of the most remarkable portraits of soldiering in recent memory.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Remember this name: Jack O’Connell. Because he is going to be huge. The 24-year-old British actor blew us away earlier this year with his performance as a juvenile offender thrown into an adult prison in Starred Up, but that was a bit of an ensemble piece. Now, with the period action suspense thriller ’71, he is carrying a film on his own for the first time, and he is magnificent. His Gary Hook is a British raw army recruit sent to Belfast in 1971, in the early days of the Troubles, where kids play in the streets amidst burning cars (when they aren’t tossing “water balloons” full of urine at soldiers), and where the locals have taken down all the street signs to sow confusion. On his first day in the city, on a mission to assist local cops with a house-to-house search for IRA troublemakers, Gary is separated from his squad and finds himself lost and alone in an urban hellscape of burnt-out buildings and civilians among whom it’s impossible to distinguish friend from foe. Director Yann Demange — a TV vet making his feature debut — opens with shocking violence and builds to an almost horror movie-style of intensity as Gary struggles to survive and find his way back to base, all in an atmosphere of tribalism taken to extremes at every quarter, not only between Irish and Brit, Protestant and Catholic, but also between old-guard IRA and radical Provisionals, military and law enforcement, those who are theoretically on the same sides. (The script, by Gregory Burke, is smart and lean.) Death is an ugly thing here, not cinematic or entertaining, and all the more horrifying for how it presents an opportunity for an instant of sorrow and even tenderness between enemies. It’s moments like that one, and others in which O’Connell bares an affecting vulnerability in Gary that makes this one of the most remarkable portraits of soldiering in recent memory.
viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival