This film set in the troubled streets of Belfast during 1971 captures perfectly the claustrophobia, fear, trepidation and lack of trust which the troubles engendered among the city’s occupants at this time of unrest. Jack O’Connell is outstanding and continues his impressive line of performances which began with Skins and has seen him mature into an actor with the intuition to match his skill. Directed by Yann Demange the film often feels as if it is closing in on itself and this technique brings home the plight of O’ Connell’s character Gary Hook, a young soldier stationed in Belfast as his first posting away from home.
After a confrontational stand off on the streets of Belfast where a hostile crowd have learnt of the army’s presence Hook finds himself abandoned by his unit and witnesses the horrific slaying of one of his colleagues. The next few hours are crucial to his survival and the streets of Belfast are littered with those who, fearful of their own position if they help a soldier considered the enemy by many, are unwilling to help if it means risking their own skin.
Hook nervous, bloody and bruised finds himself isolated and terrified as everyone he meets is a possible assassin or at the very least a contributor to his demise. It is a situation which leads him to an area where his safety is at most risk and it soon becomes clear that even those who should be siding with him cannot be relied on for their loyalty whilst others put themselves at risk in the act of human compassion.
The tension of Belfast, with burning burnt out cars on seemingly every street corner, along with paranoia, violence and mistrust is rife throughout this film. O’Connell is simply exceptional capturing every nuance of the abandoned soldier’s fear and miscomprehension of the situation he finds himself in. Definitely a thought provoking film ’71 is one which holds your attention throughout its duration and stays with you for several hours after.