A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Belfast, 1971. ’The Troubles’, a most violent period in recent history.
Last year, Jack O’Connell caught my attention with the slew of forthcoming films in which he featured, if not, starred. Gregory Burke’s latest survivalist thriller is both gripping and clever in its structure, all the while splashing every possible emotion from the book into its cast.
Throughout the tense layout of the story, O’Connell is more than capable of holding his own whilst being surrounded by a plethora of talented Irish and British supports, and that for me is one of many impressive qualities of “’71”.
Gary Hook is a youthful Derbyshire teen who is sent to Belfast, Northern Ireland on an emergency mission during the immensely violent and chaotic conflicts between the Catholic Nationalists and the Protestant Loyalists.
After witnessing the horror taking place first hand, Hook all to quickly becomes separated from his squadron and attempts to return back to his camp in one piece. It’s not that simple however.
A target for the violent and unforgiving Belfasters (or whatever the correct term is…) Hook must hide his military appearance and British accent whilst avoiding the ravenous and murderous savages altogether.
With streets laced with trouble, blood, glass, fire, rubble and death, “’71” and its depiction of the time is a gruelling picture that doesn’t allow for many moments of rest.
This is predominantly due to the film’s timeframe and setting. “’71” at its core, takes place over a singular night which gives the film a very “in-the-moment” and urgent feel.
Like that of a video game,“’71” quite literally follows the protagonist from one street corner to the next, and to the next, and to the next. Hook’s journey through Belfast is the last thing you’d find in a Northern Irish tourism commercial, however by following him around the various alleyways, apartments and suburban streets, a greater sense of the conflict and danger was felt for me, and I appreciate what the film did in that regard.
Interlaced with a wide shots of the city literally burning to the ground, “’71” does what many historical films attempt to achieve and succeeds admirably; that is to give the audience a true and thorough sense of setting, not just establishing a place and leaving it there.
The audience grow to understand the extent of the conflicts, the magnitude of it all and the dangerousness of Hook’s situation.
The other major factor contributing to “71’s” fantastic realistic touch is the limited dialogue of O’Connell’s Hook. Hook doesn’t say much whilst on the run, mainly because he doesn’t have many people to talk to.
Where the film could have crumbled however was if they chose to have more dialogue-heavy character interactions between locals, officers or commanders and Hook, especially during the heated, tense closing acts of the film.
Whenever Hook opens his mouth to talk, there’s a real sense of significance and purpose, which is a fantastic way to get an understanding of character.
There was a time however that I needed some subtitles… Having recently watched Niell Blomkamp’s “Chappie” in which an English speaking antagonist was subtitled for no reason at all, I wish that it was young Corey McKinley’s character instead.
McKinley plays a young and brutish loyalist child who trash talks, intimidates others and even has a drink far past his bed time. He was a fantastic character to include around the half way mark as he provided some brief comic relief but also symbolised the effects the situation was having on the youth.
The only problem was that I could only understand about 50% of what he was saying!
Call me an ignorant Aussie, but I’m a firm believer that Irish (which includes both Northern and the Republic) is a language of its own!
Where the film lost a little bit of it’s was its concluding act. I felt it could have been handled a little bit better and shortened slightly, whilst avoiding a couple of narrative cliches. For a film that was travelling so well, it concluded satisfactorily, however I could see it ending better.
It’s a little nitpick on my part, but retrospectively I saw some true potential in the finale of “’71” that didn’t quite deliver on the level I was hoping for. That being said, there was still plenty to love about the film in general.
The supporting characters were fantastic all over in my opinion. There was such diversity among the group of hardened, tortured souls which was a true credit to the writers behind “’71”.
Familiar faces included the excellent Richard Dormer (Good Vibrations), Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Sean Harris (Harry Brown), Sam Reid (The Railway Man) and Killian Scott (Calvary & Good Vibrations), all of which seemed perfectly cast for their parts and delivered solid performances.
What really impressed me was Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography. Some of the shots seen in “’71” were absolutely beautiful, even if they were showing the wreckage of a blown up housing commission. What Radcliffe was able to capture in the dead of night under the ominous streetlights and blazing inferno of Belfast was highly remarkable. Furthermore, the attention to detail was a real credit that made me excited to explore his other works. Shot composition, framing and lighting are areas in which I admire detail and care, so I was very happy to witness some great examples within “’71”.
Radcliffe was able to make Belfast look unfamiliar, alien and desolate, which sounds easy enough to achieve, but through O’Connell’s performance and the fish-out-of-water atmosphere that goes along with that, Radcliffe, through his cinematographic, visual strength, was able to shine, and it shows.
I’m unfamiliar as to where exactly the film was shot, but to be able to literally transform a location and make the audience genuinely believe in the setting and time-period is a true mark of visual genius.
There was however another criticism with the film, and it ties in with the area of camerawork. This could be taken either way, but for me, the shaky-cam was painfully overdone, to the point where it made “The Hunger Games” look like tripods galore! Tracking back to the “in-the-moment” feel of the film, there is definitely a place for shaky-cam within “’71”, however only to an extent.
During a chase sequence early on in the film, there were quite literally cuts that seemed to be taken from the point of view of a maple tree’s seed pod as it rapidly spirals down towards the ground. The only word to describe that sequence was ‘nauseating’.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the scene, I just needed to copy Gary’s actions and collect myself afterwards by taking in long and deep breaths…
Above all, “’71” proved to be a really enjoyable film that offered a lot of promise from first-time feature director Yann Demange whilst furthering the prosperous and exciting career of Jack O’Connell.
The characters were well fleshed out and offered a lot of diversity, however it was essentially all about O’Connell’s Hook and his individual journey over the space of one torturous night in Belfast.
If I gave .25 ratings, “’71” would undoubtedly receive a 3.75, however it didn’t quite get to 4 for me.
So sadly it becomes the recipient of a 3.5 by a technicality.
It’s a 3.5, but a very strong 3.5!