71 is a tense, gripping thriller from first time director Demange. It takes place in Ireland during the Catholic/Protestant “Troubles.” A young private, ably played by fascinating young actor Jack O’Connell (of Starred Up & Unbroken), arrives just in time to be sent into an escalating situation in a hotly contested area of Belfast that quickly turns into a riot. In the confusion, O’Connell’s private Hook is left behind by his unit; now, night is falling, he’s wounded, and about the only things the Catholics & Protestants agree about is that they want him dead. Demange really delivers with this set-up. Some of the chase scenes here are incredibly intense and when he quiets things down to escalate suspense, as in a game of silent cat-and-mouse in an apartment complex, he’s even better. It’s a real calling card and I can’t wait to see what he does next. O’Connell is ably supported by a veteran cast; Sam Reid as an inexperienced Lieutenant; Corey McKinley as a mouthy Loyalist kid; Sean Harris as a morally compromised, often terrifying undercover agent. Killian Scott is a standout even among the rest of the excellent turns as a violent IRA agent leading the hunt for O’Connell’s character; late in the film, there’s a moment where his humanity is allowed to shine through and it’s a beautiful, heart-breaking moment. The film is, obviously, incredibly violent and, as it progresses, increasingly nihilistic. O’Connell is confused and uncertain in a dangerous environment he’s unfamiliar with, but this environment, this landscape isn’t only the streets and alleys, but the increasingly cloudy morality he uncovers as he progresses through this night. The film posits a dark and grim vision of this world where no one holds the moral high-ground and no one is unwilling to break a principle or take a life in order to achieve their personal goals. Anyway, it’s a really, really great movie; tense, engaging, brutal, suspenseful and, ultimately, deeply emotionally effecting. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – intense thriller about a British soldier trapped behind IRA lines in 1971 is grim, violent, suspenseful and bleak; masterfully shot and powerfully performed. 4 stars.