'71 (2014). Occurring in the year that the first British soldiers were killed by the IRA, it's a pulsating chase through the mean streets of Belfast for a squaddie separated from his comrades. Starring an array of British and Irish talent including Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris and Killian Scott, '71 is a pulse-raising actioner that stumbles a little in navigating the typically hazardous political terrain. Gary Hook (O'Connell) is a raw army recruit, hurled from mud-sodden obstacle courses to the Northern Irish capital.
O'Connell proves an unusual lead - his soldier is a passive protagonist, heightening the sense of danger rather than the generic turning of the tables. Far from the idyll of playing football in the sun with his adoring sibling - the sole early nod to any real characterisation - this is a plunge into hell for Hook. Belfast is reduced to rubble and the stakes are raised as the sun sets over marauding gangs of militia and the burning cars that litter every street corner. Demange has spoken of how the script, when he first read it, transcended the specificity of Northern Ireland, and it is arguably due to this feeling that the film begins to flag after a blistering opening. When the focus is solely on Stygian nightmare, this out-and-out genre piece works really well, but as the action wears on the scope expands, and the politics never quite coalesce. The labyrinthine accords and back-channel affiliations are neither substantial enough to comment on the murky allegiances of the time, or well-drawn enough to offer anything but the most simplistic context for audiences without prior knowledge. As such, '71's incendiary setting ultimately hamstrings the plot machinations and undermines its sensory opening third.
The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 8-19 October 2014. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.
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