In the divided city of Belfast at the height of The Troubles, a rookie British soldier (Jack O'Connell, Starred Up) finds himself separated from his unit and lost in IRA-controlled territory, in this gripping fusion of charged political drama and action-thriller.
Thrilling, tense, and directed with prodigious
confidence, '71 announced itself as
one of the best films at this year's Berlin
Film Festival. Its director, Yann Demange,
wasn't well known outside the UK. That's
about to change.
In 1971, Gary (Jack O'Connell) and
Thommo (Jack Lowden) are teenage British
Army recruits, still learning military discipline
as their unit trains for duty in Germany.
Plans change and this group of untested
men, barely out of school, are thrust instead
into the maw of Northern Ireland.
Trouble starts as soon as their boots hit
the ground. Belfast is divided by religion and
politics, with a line of unpredictable violence
separating the Protestant Loyalist areas and
the mostly Catholic Nationalist districts
whose inhabitants oppose British rule.
Gary and Thommo's squad is immediately
ordered to patrol a Catholic area. Things
don't go well.
It's when Gary and Thommo are separated
from their squad that '71 becomes a
truly remarkable drama. Racing through
the warren of brick alleys and row houses
transformed into hideouts, Gary finds himself
alone in an especially complicated war
zone. Without his unit to protect him, can
he shed his uniform and hide in plain sight
to avoid being shot dead? A local Loyalist boy
offers help, but can he be trusted?
O'Connell impressed in last year's
Festival discovery Starred Up, and went
on to take the lead role in Angelina Jolie's
forthcoming Unbroken. Here he shows the
makings of a star, conveying both the emotion
and the animal instinct of a man at the
centre of a manhunt. As his British Army
squad tries to rescue him, danger looms on
all sides from the Irish Republican Army, the
more volatile Provisional IRA, and even the
With a mix of action-movie suspense and
complex political drama worthy of Kathryn
Bigelow, Demange directs '71 with a muscular,
urgent style. This is a director to watch.