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Arts and Entertainment Saturday, Mar. 28, 2015 4 years ago

Film Review: '71'

The new film "71" is about blurred lines in 1971 Belfast.

The new film, "71," is about blurred lines in 1971 Belfast. When a young British soldier is stranded behind enemy lines, it's difficult in ascertaining whom to trust. And preconceived notions can result in deadly consequences.

Once again, actor Jack O'Connell's character finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. In "Unbroken" it was WWII on a raft in the Pacific. In "71" it's in the center of a violent sectarian riot between Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists. As Pvt. Gary Hook (O'Connell) chases down a child who has snatched a rifle, his fellow soldier is shot in the face. Separated from his unit, he tries to survive a horrific night on the perilous streets Belfast. 

In this God forsaken war zone, Hook discovers that children are as lethal as adults. And helping hands can come from those least expected to offer. Hook's harrowing journey is fraught with fear, mistrust, brutality and heartbreak. Over the course of a single night, his world is forever changed.

In his first feature film, director Yann Demange has crafted a tense thriller utilizing jittery hand-held cameras and a pulsating score. Both enhance the frantic set of circumstances Hook must suffer. His overhead night shots of Belfast (in actuality, Liverpool, Blackburn and Sheffield, England) some areas ablaze, others serene, indicate how fragile the lines between combat and merely existing, really were. It serves to "up" the level of fear which anyone living there had to endure.

Mr. O'Connell is proving how adept he is at portraying a stranger in a strange land. Through few words he magnificently manages to convey a multitude of emotions. In "71" we feel his bewilderment and pain through body language and facial contortions. His performance is underplayed and powerful.

"71" really could have benefited by the use of subtitles. The Irish accents were particularly difficult to understand. But that aside, it delivers the goods almost on the level of a documentary. The futility of war and the toll it takes on innocent victims is at the heart of this riveting film. It's also a sad reminder that whether it be 1971 or 2015, religious and political wars are still being waged by zealots whose agendas seem meaningless in the scheme of life.

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