“’71” takes places in one of the most violent years in the long conflict between the UK and Ireland, with internments, riots and a bombing that killed 15 people in December. The film takes that sense of disorder and brutality and turns it into a gut-churning thriller, in which a young soldier (Jack O’Connell) is separated from his unit in Catholic Belfast. He makes his way through the city, not knowing whether the people will help him or turn him over to the IRA.
O’Connell, who’s quickly becoming one of the most exciting young actors working today, is as frightened here as he was imposing in “Starred Up,” and no less compelling. Director Yann Demange (making his debut) matches his intensity, crafting each suspense sequence with such precision and care that one could easily see him becoming a first-rate action director. If the film isn’t the most complex look at the Troubles, it’s not a knock against it; whatever the politics, it’s hell to be in the middle of it.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects
O’Connell’s wild-eyed performance anchors the feature, and the rising star is consistently engaging and entertaining to watch. The film is Gary’s story, and O’Connell embodies the character with uncanny ease. The film itself is nearly impossible to turn away from, but O’Connell’s steady and stellar work set it a cut above. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
A gritty, relentless wartime drama that blends its action set pieces with palpable despair and historical observation, “’71” maintains a polished intensity that fares well for first-time feature director Yann Demange. Centered on a gripping performance by Jack O’Connell, as a British soldier marooned in a sharply divided Belfast over the course of a single, violent night during the height of the Northern Ireland conflict, “’71” constantly thrills without sensationalizing its surprises. Read more.
More thoughts from the web:
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
Having previously directed only shorts and TV episodes, Demange, who was born in France but has lived most of his life in England, makes an accomplished feature debut, though it augurs a future in gripping action movies rather than probing political dramas. From the moment that Gary is trapped behind “enemy lines” (in a war movie set entirely among residential streets, Liverpool doubles ably for Belfast) “’71” rarely stops for breath; the threat of sudden violence hangs over every mundane conversation, and Demange expertly sustains the tension, allowing anxiety to build, briefly ebb, and then build again, over and over. Read more.
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
Mr. Demange moves so effortlessly and rapidly from these introductory interludes that you may not notice all the parts shifting into gear. He knows when to linger in the moment, too, as when Gary watches Darren at a home for children, a place that, you intuit, the older brother knows inch by loveless inch. Read more.
Matthew Dessem, The Dissolve
Each sequence has its own pace, tone, and look, from a breakneck foot-race through a warren of narrow brick alleys to an almost fairy-tale-like section in which Hook is led through nighttime streets by a child. What they all have in common is a steadily mounting dread. There’s a moment in the middle of the film where Demange and cinematographer Tat Radcliffe crank up the sodium lighting until everything’s a sallow, hallucinogenic yellow, and it feels like the film could veer off into allegory, like some kind of Irish Troubles version of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.” Instead, Burke and Demange bring things back to reality in the harshest way possible…Read more.
Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine
All of this might have played as heavy-handed allegory in a different context, but by adhering to grim realism, Demange ensures we’re always as caught up with the people involved as we are in the situations in which they’re caught up. The final moments of “’71” end the film on a cynical note, with the official ass-covering having officially begun. But if the kind of cynicism toward authority figures it suggests is hardly anything new in political thrillers of this stripe, the path toward this bitter conclusion has been chronicled with such a clear-eyed sense of perspective that, against all odds, it nevertheless lands with the necessary gut punch. Read more.
Guy Lodge, Variety
The Troubles have rarely been more troubling onscreen than they are in “’71,” a vivid, shivery survival thriller that turns the red-brick residential streets of Belfast into a war zone of unconscionable peril. Wringing every sweat-bead of tension from its fiercely concentrated narrative, acclaimed TV director Yann Demange’s debut feature covers one night in the life (and potential death) of a young British soldier stranded by his unit in a riot-blasted IRA stronghold at the zenith of the Northern Ireland nationalist conflict. Rapidly rising star Jack O’Connell’s terse but galvanizing performance in the lead should further guarantee widespread distributor interest, though the unstinting filmmaking on show here would still turn heads without him. Read more.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
It’s a riveting, man-on-the-run genre movie, almost a combination of “Black Hawk Down” and “After Hours,” rather than an allegory or a historical treatise. But some degree of pre-echo or contemporary relevance is unavoidable. It might be a stretch to call “’71” an Iraq movie in disguise, without sandstorms or muezzin calls, but we are surely meant to notice the parallels. Read more.
Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times
Demange’s considerable accomplishment as a director is to place us in the dead center of this chaotic nightmare along with Hook, to have us feel what he is feeling not at a remove but just as he’s experiencing it. Nothing is extraneous, no moment that doesn’t enhance the tension of this nightmare scenario is allowed to survive, until the proceedings become, in the best possible sense, almost unbearable to watch. Read more.