In 1971, a newly recruited English soldier is dispatched to Northern Ireland to help police it in the midst the worst of its Catholic Vs. Protestant troubles. When his unit’s first assignment, a routine house search, escalates into a full-blown riot the recruit finds himself abandoned by his unit and alone in hostile territory, with danger around every corner and no inkling of who to trust.
2014 has been a pretty slim year for British film. This reviewer prides himself on visiting the cinema at a regularity orders of magnitude above the average cinema goer, but as of this point of the year I have seen just four British films, some original but forgettable, the rest just plain forgettable (and for those paying attention, but are geographically unaware, you might remember a review for a film called Calvary we posted earlier in the year, which we viewed very favourably, but that film was Irish, which, of course, isn’t part of Britain).
What a pleasure it was then to see a British film that came from nowhere, and wasn’t only good, but defied predictability and upped its game throughout.
’71, the story of a rooky soldier stuck in hostile territory, anywhere else in the world, might seem like a perfect fit for an action film, consisting of lots of chases and a hero that eventually tools up and becomes a Rambo-like badass who ends the mission a seasoned veteran; but this being a British flick, gritty realism is what’s really on the menu, and with this a film that is more tense thriller than out-an’-out action.
Some find the adherence of British cinema to murky realism quite hard to get along with, which considering the dingy aesthetics this usually results in (a trait ’71 too is guilty of), is quite understandable, but for some stories it just works, and in which case a more polished Hollywood sheen would be to the film’s detriment.
Put into the confines of a set-up that lends itself to an action film this realism adds a sense of unpredictability that renders each and every scene a question mark despite the fact that logic always applies so that all of said scenes make perfect narrative sense. This takes away the usual shoe-horning in of logicless plot threads only present to provide yet another action set piece and instead replaces them with sequences that shock, surprise and inform in equal ratios.
We’re just not used to seeing a film centred on a character who is SO green that he makes the only predictable element of the film the fact that in any given situation he’s somehow going to be dealt the shitty end of the stick and come out of it worse off than when he went in, and only just by the skin of his teeth.
The backdrop of the film being what it is adds many layers of character, politics, insight and objectivity, making the whole affair much more consequential than the rat-in-a-maze film it could have been, and so very satisfying in accordance.
As mentioned, the visuals aren’t slick, but there are some unexpected examples of FX that mesh perfectly and draw zero attention to themselves, and the attention to period detail is flawless, add to this genuinely excellent performances from all involved and you’re looking at a film that sells its intention 100%.
’71 might not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who prefer their films nice and shinny, and though its set-up is not the most original in the world it does deal with it in a decidedly original way; so to those who like a tense thrill ride that is impossible to predict yet believable to a fault, it really is one to seek out and embrace.