'71 - 'Jack O'Connell anchors this hard-hitting thriller that boasts a cracking, tense score from David Holmes'
Thriller, starring Jack O'Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer, Charile Murphy, Martin McCann, Killian Scott, David Wilmot, Harry Verity, directed by Yann Demange. Cert 15A.
Earlier this year Jack O’Connell delivered a star-making turn in Starred Up, a gritty prison drama which showed that he had the acting chops to go with an undeniable screen charisma.
Well, with his second lead role in 12 months he’s required to anchor this equally hard-hitting thriller and, in the process, confirms his status as the most promising young British actor of his generation.
Set in Belfast just as the Troubles were moving into the deadly stand-off which would last for two decades, ‘71 gives us just enough background detail and hints about the complexities of the conflict while still keeping an eye on what is essentially a ‘behind enemy lines’ story.
Young squaddie Gary Hook (O’Connell) joins the British Army as, we presume, a means of putting some order on his life, given that all we really know about him is that he’s been in care in the same facility where his younger brother remains.
Immediately after training, however, his regiment is deployed to deal with the escalating situation in Northern Ireland and we get some perspective about how alien and confusing this must have been to working-class kids from the North of England — “It looks just like Leeds,” proclaims one.
The brutality of how the police deal with the citizens shocks the soldiers but when a minor riot breaks out Hook and a colleague are separated from the main body of troops, and his comrade is murdered in broad daylight.
Hunted in a city that he doesn’t know and not knowing who to trust since everybody looks the same, Hook nonetheless provides the film’s focus as murkier moral dilemmas swirl around him.
We have the conflict between old and new Republicans (headed by David Wilmot and Martin McCann respectively), the black ops military intelligence unit (with Sean Harris in a key role) playing both sides against each other while maintaining links with the UVF and a father/daughter couple (Richard Dormer and Charlie Murphy) conflicted as to whether they should help the wounded Hook.
Debut director Yann Demange has quite a bit to juggle with there but the script by Gregory Burke (who wrote the acclaimed play Black Watch) is as tight as a Lambeg drum and we have the outstanding presence of O’Connell to hold everything together.
The locations look suitably grim (Liverpool, Blackburn and Sheffield standing in for Belfast), the colour schemes reek of the 1970s and there’s a cracking, tense score from David Holmes.