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Jack O’Connell Behind Enemy Lines in ΄71

Jack O’Connell Behind Enemy Lines in ΄71

Once again a film tackles a topic we think we’ve seen
before—the violence in Belfast during the 1970s—and dramatizes it in a way that
is fresh and completely riveting. Jack O’Connell (who recently starred as Louis
Zamperini in Unbroken) plays a young British
soldier who has just completed basic training. Instead of being posted
somewhere in Europe, as he expects, he and a squadron of green recruits are
sent to Northern Ireland, where things are heating up and England feels that a
stronger military presence is required. As it turns out, O’Connell isn’t the
only one who’s a novice here, and in a terrible blunder he is abandoned and
left to fend for himself in a hostile environment. By focusing on one
sympathetic character who has no stake in “the troubles,” other than following
orders, ΄71 gives us someone
to identify with as terrible violence and equally terrible betrayal occurs right
before our eyes.

What makes ΄71 all
the more compelling is its multifaceted point of view. In Gregory Burke’s
incisive screenplay, there are no heroes or villains. The Irish undercover cops
who work alongside the troops (and openly resent them) turn out to have
complicated relationships with their informers. The military leaders aren’t
much better. More than once, they use the phrase “a confused situation” to
explain or whitewash a disastrous occurrence.

First-time feature director Yann Demange creates a vivid
sense of urgency as well as time and place. (He even replicated the original
street lights to indicate how dimly lit the city was in 1971.) Working with
cinematographer Tat Radcliffe and production designer Chris Oddy, he puts us in
the midst of a chaotic atmosphere, filled with tension and shocking bursts of
violence, but never allows us to lose focus. (In this sense the film bears some
resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s American

΄71 holds you in its grip from start to finish. It’s
a superior piece of work that has been playing the film festival circuit for
over a year. Now, at last, it is opening in theaters. Don’t miss it.

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Mr. Maltin is indeed correct. This is an exceptionally well-made film.

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