“’71” is an action thriller film set in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971, directed by Yann Demange.
Young British Army soldier, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’ Connell – “Unbroken”, “This Is England”), having just finished his training, is sent to Belfast with his unit during the early years of “The Troubles”, having been told that this is on an emergency basis because of the deteriorating security situation there.
Upon arrival at their sparse barracks they are greeted by their new commander, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid – “The Riot Club”), who is himself new to the situation.
Also based at their barracks are members of the shadowy Military Reaction Force (MRF), a covert intelligence-gathering and counter-insurgency unit of the Army, led by Captain Sandy Browning (Sean Harris – “Outlaw”, “Brighton Rock”).
On their first trip out, to provide support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during a house search. The naïve Lt. Armitage had instructed his men not to wear riot gear, in an attempt to show the local residents that they are there to help.
Things start to turn nasty when a crowd gathers as the RUC officers violently question suspects. When a fellow soldier is hit by a missile and drops his rifle, a young boy grabs it an runs off. Gary is sent to retrieve it and soon finds himself cut off from his unit and trying to survive alone on the unfamiliar and unfriendly streets of Belfast.
We experience the majority of events throughout the night from the perspective of Gary, as he encounters a variety of characters, some friendly, some anything but. There are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after him. He doesn’t know which local civilians (both Protestant and Catholic) he can trust either. Add the unclear agenda of the MRF into the mix and it’s a dangerous and terrifying position for Gary to find himself in.
I am no expert in the causes of “The Troubles” or the rights and wrongs of it all. It seems clear that, even now, this is an extremely divisive subject.
This is a gripping and tense film. There are no black and white issues here. How accurate it is in portraying the various sides and agendas I don’t know, but it certainly gives an impression of just how tough that period of history in Northern Ireland must have been for all those concerned, and is highly recommended viewing…