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DVD Review

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Starring: Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Charlie Murphy and Paul Anderson
Distributor: StudioCanal
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 09 March 2015

Northern Ireland in 1971 was not a great place to live, the sectarian violence between the catholic and protestant communities had reached a point where the British government felt the need to deploy troops on the street. Amongst the first wave to go in is Gary Hook, a young politically naive soldier. His first duty is to go with his squad to protect the police on a raid, looking for guns. The raid goes wrong when the local residents gather and a mini riot breaks out. The squad beat a hasty retreat but in their rush to get away Hook and another soldier are left behind and the other man is killed by a local IRA gunman. On the run and alone, Hook must survive the night in an unfamiliar city and no way of telling friend from foe...

'71 (2014. 1 hr, 35 min, 21 sec) is a drama directed by Yann Demange from a screenplay by Gregory Burke.

In overall structure the film is not that much different to Black Hawk Down, a military mishap stranding soldiers in the midst of a conflict zone, miles from the safety of their barracks. Jack O’Connell takes centre stage as Hook and there is little that can be faulted with his performance, but the overall film is not without its problems.

Hook finds himself in a difficult position of not knowing who to trust. In an earlier sequence he is befriended by a young boy who offers to take him to safety. These parts of the film play really well. Is the boy taking him the right way or to his death? Neither Hook nor the audience is able to tell, but abandoned as he is he has little choice but to follow. Even in those parts of the film, where he appears to be safe, are transitory as he has the IRA after him as well as running afoul of a shadowy military operation, which would rather see him silenced.

If the film had kept itself to this basic survival scenario it would have been better, but it tries to open up the conflict to include the power struggles within the IRA itself as well as the interference from the British military. This then requires the film to switch focus towards a number of characters who we neither spend enough time with to care about personally or to be enlightened about their motivations. Apart from the solidity of Hook the rest of the characters slip in and out of Hook’s ordeal like transient phantoms. If this had been the intention of the film makers, then that’s fine but it still felt like it was trying to shoehorn too much in the short allotted time.

This also extended to the character of Hook's brother, Darren. Their relationship is not made clear at the start of the film we only get a short sequence prior to Hook shipping out, so it’s not out of the realms of possibility that this is Hook's son, after all we don’t actually know his own age, so it’s somewhat confusing when he drops him off to what appears to be a children’s home. This relationship is not clarified until the end of the film leaving the audience ambivalent about how they feel about the central character who appears to have dumped his own kid prior to going to Northern Ireland.

You get a choice of two audio tracks, a 5.1 DD and a 2.0 stereo. The former track is better if for nothing else to bring out the distinctive soundtrack, which is evocative, adding much to the tension of the film. You also have English subtitles for the hard of hearing.

The extras include an interview with Jack O’Connell (4 min, 10 sec) discussing how he became involved in the film and what interested him in the role. There is also an interview with Yann Demange (7 min, 21 sec) on why he wanted to make this film as his first feature. Lastly there is an interview with Gregory Burke (5 min, 48 sec) which is quite funny as he wrote a play which became successful even though he does not himself like or go to the theatre. He then goes on to explain the creation of the screenplay.

Although I may have been hard about certain elements of the film, it remains worth watching for Jack O’Connell’ performance.


Charles Packer

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