In Northern Ireland, the conflict between unionists (mostly Protestants who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom) and Irish nationalists (Catholics wanting to leave the United Kingdom to join a united Ireland) was at its most violent in 1970 through 1972. As we witness in ’71, Belfast was not the safest place. With bombings being a daily happening, deaths of innocent civilians rising, Belfast felt like hell. And it is in this hell that Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is dispatched, along with his squad of young army recruits, fresh out of training barracks. They’re kids. The young men are sent to Belfast to keep the peace while the local police are violently searching homes for firearms. There is a riot, and as the violence escalates, Gary is separated from his squad. He has to run for his life, when a group of young Nationalists are threatening to kill him. Lost in an unknown city, Gary tries to find a hiding place. He gets some help from local residents, but they too are in danger of losing their lives. While the trigger happy young Nationalists are still trying to find and kill Gary, older, more reasoned ones are trying to minimise the casualties. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Armitage wants to bring back Gary alive. He gets some help from some covert counter-insurgency unit. But by the end of ’71, we’re not too sure who to trust anymore. And when a mishandled bomb kill innocents, they all start blaming one another. It is a mess. This is a first film from Yann Demange, and he knows that he must keep us as confused as Gary. The young man is unsure who or what he is going to find around the every corner. And so are we. Things gets very tense. But, for a realistic war film, ’71‘s ending is too pat, too much like any Hollywood thriller. I oddly felt I was watching Fatal attraction. Gary, a scared, lost, injured, young soldier, who has to kill in order to survive is a perfect fit for a physical actor like Jack O’Connell. The masterful David Holmes score is the heart of the film. At the very least, it is Gary’s pulsating, throbbing heart, threatening to burst out of our own chest. It connects us to the film more than anything.

Rémi-Serge Gratton


Directed by:
Yann Demange
Screenplay by:
Gregory Burke
Jack O’Connell
Sam Reid
Sean Harris
99 min.
Rated 14A

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