'71 - NZIFF Review

'71 - NZIFF Review

Thrilling, tense and visceral are perhaps the best ways to describe the drama '71.

Set in Belfast in 1971, a near wordless Jack O'Connell stars as rookie Brit soldier Gary Hook. As the film begins the trainees are being put through their paces, with the importance of team-work being drilled into them.

But recruited to the Belfast lines to help with peace-keeping duty, this squaddie soon sees the reality of team-work thrown out the window when a tense meeting between Catholics and Protestants on one street sees him cut-off from the rest of his squad.

Suddenly forced on the run behind enemy lines on one night, Hook's out of his depth when it comes to surviving what lies ahead - and his troubles, much like Northern Ireland's, are just beginning.

First time director Yann Demange rightly won best director at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards with this gripping take on the survival film. As bombs go off and the shocks hit, Demange knows how to lull you into a sense of dread, let it coil around you and choke you with it.

In among the visceral riot, close camera shots force you into the POV of Hook et al as you try desperately to see what's coming where but are only confronted with the uncertain reality of a sea of seething faces. Equally fuelling this powderkeg is O'Connell, whose near-mute presence forces him into a physicality of a performance that helps convey everything he needs and the internal conflicts.

As he staggers from one moment to the next, picking his way through dense fog and streets littered only with burning cars or petrol bombs, he's a commanding presence, a mix of frightened, vulnerable and determined.

Equally chilling are the politics of the time, as the words "We look after our own in the army" and relying on the kindness of strangers take on new meaning on the bomb-torn Belfast streets as allegiances are struck and betrayals are meted out, never overtly but always with subtlety as the conflict begins to take shape.

A final cat and mouse sequence set in a stairwell is the ultimate noose-tightening as storm clouds gather and the nail-biter heads to its denouement. Tragedy inevitably follows Hook on the streets of Belfast but not once does Demange milk this, preferring to showcase the sickening reality of the impending Troubles rather than linger on it.

'71 is an intense and riveting film, one which takes you into the pulsing heart of conflict and defies you not to succumb to a heart attack as it pursues its devastating conclusion.

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