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London Film Festival Review: '71

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★★★★★

Jack O'Connell's amazing rise to fame has been quite extraordinary. This Christmas he has a starring role in Angelina Jolie's film Unbroken, and has already had a lead turn this year in David Mackenzie's brilliant and brutal prison drama Starred Up. '71 isn't quite as brilliant as the latter, but it is a magnificent debut effort from filmmaker Yann Demange.

The film throws the viewer into the harrowing, apocalyptic carnage of the broken and bloody conflicts in 1971 Belfast. This is like a trip into hell, but a hell that doesn't feel too dissimilar from the world we live in today. This is, in the true sense of the word (rather than the genre sense) a horror movie.

Our protagonist is Gary Hook, a young English squaddie, still a novice and out of his depth. During a doomed trip into the depths of Belfast suburbia he gets separated from his colleagues, and lost among the bomb-shattered streets. A series of people, including a boy and young woman, come to his aid, but the threat of falling into the wrong pair of helping hands is very real. As the narrative twists and turns, Gary finds himself entangled within a situation that continues to spiral out of control.

Demange and his cinematographer Scott Kevan have crafted a picture with a bold, distinctive look; gloriously grainy 16mm film stock, low level lighting, intense close-ups. This is full-bloodied, full throttle filmmaking and an amazing sensory experience.

Although the film impressively tries to avoid presenting a neutral, BBC News-style approach to the troubles, the plot threads do at times require stricter discipline in terms of coherence and precision. However, this is only a small criticism. Few directorial debuts have this much power and verve behind them. And with each film he makes O'Connell proves himself to be one of the brightest and most talented British actors working in cinema today.

'71 (2014), directed by Yann Demange, is released in UK cinemas by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.

 

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