Down and out in Belfast
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00IYSEV2I][/pullquote] First-time director Yann Demange hasn’t shied away from controversy in his accomplished debut feature ’71. Focusing on Northern Ireland in 1971, he and script-writer Gregory Burke have crafted a thrilling, engaging and in some ways important film in among the Hollywood franchise-builders this year.
Young private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) finds himself left behind after one of the endless mini-conflicts on the streets of Belfast. His commanding officers panic and he must find a way to survive on the violent streets as a man hated by the enemy and largely ignored by those he is ordered to protect.
The basic facts are laid bare with a force of British soldiers maligned by incompetence and a lack of understanding, thrust into a powder keg situation divided by religion and politics.
Lead Jack O’Connell whose big breaks saw him in This is England and TV show Skins, has already proved his ability to present believable violence and rage. Yet here he is almost silent throughout. A young man with no idea of what’s really happening just desperately trying to survive in a Hell created by others. It’s a tour de force from an actor who is clearly out to make a name for himself as the finest talents of a generation and a man for whom it is within his grasp. This will form part of his breakout year, along with Starred Up and the Angelina Jolie directed Unbroken and the future looks incredibly bright for the man they used to call Cookie.
If O’Connell is the breakout in front of the camera, it is director Demange who stars behind it. His close-up direction of the violence, which is not sugar-coated, really places the audience front and centre. You feel every explosion, every act so that by the end your breathless, exhausted and beaten, much like the characters.
For a man known only for TV work, this is as confident a debut as we’re likely to see with one of the most memorable films of the year.