Not the safest
place for a
to get lost in.
Dir. Yann Demange
Scr. Gregory Burke
Starring: Jack O'Connell
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Barely out of their teens and thrust immediately from basic training into the hellfire of war must surely have been traumatic enough, but for the lads in the British Army during the early 70s, the sense of horror and disorientation must have multiplied exponentially when they found themselves fighting on what they would have perceived as their home turf. Not that the "troubles" in Northern Ireland were ever really as familiar to the rest of the United Kingdom as their own backyards, but still, they'd have been amongst English-speaking citizens, living in homes not far removed from the architecture of their own and round every corner, neighbourhood pubs would've had the brew of mother's milk amply flowing out of the taps. Alas, the incongruities of burning wrecks of British Army vehicles everywhere, bombs going off at random, children pelting them with plastic bags full of urine and at times, those same children bearing firearms, all would have seemed like a living nightmare.
From a tersely efficient screenplay by Gregory Burke, director Yann Demange flings us into Paul Greengrass herky-jerky realist territory as we follow the fresh young British private Gary (Jack O'Connell) as he's separated from his platoon during a massive street riot and finds himself smack in the middle of the most violent section of Belfast, the border separating the Loyal Protestants and the anti-Brit, anti-Protestant Catholics. There's not much more to the movie than the sheer tale of survival over the course of one night, but for much of the picture's running time, it's genuinely suspenseful - at times, unbearably so.
The period detail is especially impressive and contributes immeasurably to painting a portrait of a city under siege by its own inhabitants. Burke and Demange do, however, let us down during the final third as they set up and follow through with a cliche-ridden and predictable cavalry-to-the-rescue climax. The whole thing at this point feels so false, unearned and not in keeping with the rest of the picture, that even the potentially powerful aspects of its denouement lack the sort of clout the filmmakers appear to be yearning for. The 70s grittiness the picture adheres to, but then abandons, is such a crashing disappointment that it comes close to negating everything about the picture that works quite splendidly.
THE FILM CORNER RATING:
'71 plays at TIFF 2014 in the TIFF Discovery Series.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ORDER ANYTHING FROM AMAZON BY USING THE LINKS BELOW. CLICKING ON THEM AND THEN CLICKING THROUGH TO ANYTHING WILL ALLOW YOU TO ORDER AND IN SO DOING, SUPPORT THE ONGING MAINTENANCE OF THE FILM CORNER.