Front Row at the Movies
"71" Was Year of The Troubles in Belfast
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Ireland is just as green as they say, rolling hills and rock fences unfurling before you, the pastures spread out like a tablecloth on a St. Patrick’s Day picnic. But there’s a dark side to Ireland, or was. That was Belfast back during what they called the Troubles.
The Troubles is the name given to the Northern Ireland conflict (1960 - 1998), a political and sectarian war over the country’s constitutional status. Protestants generally wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Catholics generally wanted independence from the UK. More than 3,500 were killed during the conflict.
"71" is a war thriller that recounts the heart-pounding story of a British soldier who becomes separated from his unit during a riot in Belfast in 1971 (hence the title). It is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Here we see a squad of British soldiers searching for illegal firearms in houses along on Divis Street, an area of Belfast where Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists live side by side. Virtually a war zone.
When a mob of Nationalists overpower the squad, the British soldiers retreat, inadvertently leaving two men behind. Alone in a hostile city, Private Gary Hook finds himself on the run, dodging armed stalkers, befriending a Protestant boy, encountering Loyalist bomb-makers, being captured by the IRA. Will he survive the night?
Put your money on the soldier, played by Jack O’Connell, the young English actor who survived the turmoil of Japanese interment in "Unbroken." His acting skills are up to par here too. Eyes wild, sweat beading his forehead, blood smearing his check, he will make you feel the fear of being on your own in enemy territory.
"71" is one non-stop chase scene. "Nothing can prepare you for the night shoots, and being sprayed with cold water … endurance was a factor in that one," grins the 24-year-old winner of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Rising Star Award.
How does O’Connell describe the film? "I hear the word ‘thriller,’" he says. "But I never set out … I didn’t feel like we were making a thriller. We’re portraying it on ground level, so instead of boring an audience with a portrayal of the politics and where this war started – we’re just in there. And it is thrilling. But for me, I was portraying someone who, for as far as I was concerned, existed. The story is emotionally moving. We care about the soldier."
O’Connell pauses to consider his words. "I just hope they feel like they watched a lot of honesty onscreen. I hope they feel enlightened by that version of honesty, not glorification of war. We all have a responsibility in this industry to tell proper stories amidst entertainment. I hate the term ‘war porn.’ I find it insensitive, quite beyond belief. But it exists, and I’m going to be steering clear of war porn."
He continues searching for the right way to sum up the film. "It’s a depiction of war. In that sense, it can’t be an anti-war film, because otherwise it would so blatantly be an anti-war film that it doesn’t become interesting. We have to make out own minds up during that depiction. We certainly don’t glorify it, and the idea isn’t to tempt anyone into finding themselves in that situation, but again, we wanted to provide a reasoning for people on either side. All too often, you don’t see both sides of the story portrayed at the same level of attention and decency. I don’t think we can be accused of that."