'71 Review

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Behind Enemy Lines 1971

by Casimir Harlow Oct 16, 2014 at 7:48 AM

  • Movies review


    '71 Review

    Raw and unflinching, this directorial debut transcends its limited budget and scale to deliver a suitably atmospheric snapshot of the conflict in Belfast, using it as a tense backdrop for high concept thrills.

    When fresh new soldier Greg Hook gets shipped out to Northern Ireland, he has no idea what to expect and is forced to learn to survive the hard way when a street protest turns into a riot and he's left behind by his unit. Caught on the wrong side of town, where his uniform - and accent - will be a death sentence, he keeps moving, not knowing who to trust in a world of frightened civilians, armed children and corrupt fighters - on both sides.
    Director Yann Demange makes a striking debut here with '71, superbly infusing behind enemy lines thrills with a genuine, palpably authentic setting. Painting in keenly differentiated shades of grey, he uses The Troubles to effortlessly crank up the tension, throwing a new generation (of audience members and actors alike) into the height of the conflict; a time of confusion, cynicism, defensiveness and bloody violence simply waiting to kick off.

    Starred Up's Jack O'Connell takes the lead here, cementing his position as an impressive fresh new Brit actor to keep an eye on, and committing to the vigorous, physically-driven performance. Even if he does not always convince as somebody averse to violence, he certainly convinces as the tough new recruit, forced to go on the run, fight through the wounds and the opponents to just survive. Far less an action-thriller this is, after all, much more of a 'survival' thriller.

    A few familiar faces pop up, including David Wilmot as one of the more amenable-to-negotiation IRA leaders, and Sean Harris as a vicious MRF Captain who clearly has his own agenda throughout. Aside from his previous work, this performance alone gives him decent credentials for his upcoming role as the villain of the fifth Mission: Impossible instalment.

    Tense and intense, this small-scale Brit thriller combines a high concept with a suitably murky setting and delivers the goods.

    With strong and remarkably stylish direction from the debut director (you would never have guessed), a strong and authentic period setting, and even a few touching socio-political reflections along the way (the tough Ulster Loyalist kid sums it all up when he comments on the protagonist's lack of religious definition one way or another); not to mention some committed performances and a well-defined high-concept idea upon which to hang the thriller tale, this is an impressive offering indeed. With a plethora of Brit features getting to the Big Screen thanks to the screen quota rules which dictate that a certain percentage of screens have to show original Brit features, it's nice to come across one that hasn't got anything to do with Noel Clarke, and nicer even to come across such a genuinely gripping gem.

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