This film is terse, it hits you like a rubber bullet to the temple. It is a particularly thrilling watch largely because it is set in an urban conflict zone with a bona fide recent historical grounding.
There’s so much action set in streets you feel you know and wouldn’t want to walk alone at night, justifiably in this film, where you could variably be confronted by a Molotov cocktail or human waste.
Undoubtedly, one of ’71’s strengths was that the film felt so real and instantaneous. From vantage point of someone who is from Northern Ireland (NI), it felt very authentic and somewhat familiar – that is to say the production designers did an excellent job of recreating 1970’s NI: dowdy decor doors and extras with archaic hair cuts.
Jack O’Connell is just right, as ever. He is fast becoming a go-to male lead in any Film 4 production with the word gritty in the synopsis.
Reference must be made to his startling turn in Starred Up at the beginning of this year. In ’71 his role is to an extent, inverted, Starred Up has him cast as an offhand, hot headed young offender who’s been batted about by the prison system. In ’71 we see him uptake the role of a novice soldier, suitably shaken.
He’s one of the good guys in a total grey area, where everyone else is characterised by wrong-headedness and tribal loyalties (not simply between nationalist and unionist, the military is interestingly aligned as a separate faction in itself).
In his uniquely gap toothed, estuary English manner, O’Connell makes us very aware of his abject horror and his increasing disaffection – the viewer can’t help but feel it too.