Though this film has now left the theater here in Indianapolis, I encourage you to make use of antidepressants before watching it at home.
Some films, no matter how well done, become difficult to recommend because they inevitably leave you emotionally devastated. As examples, think of how you felt after watching 12 Years a Slave (2013) or last year’s Fury and Still Alice. While two of those three films were recognized at Oscar time, I doubt if many of you could tolerate watching them a second time.
‘71 is that type of film. Taking place in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, it focuses on one abandoned British soldier’s attempt to stay alive in a city that would welcome his death. It is impossible for him to make a distinction between possible friends and sworn enemies, and you watch women and young boys die in the carnage as the IRA pursues their target.
The British soldier’s name is Gary Hook, a teenager who becomes increasingly frantic after being beaten and shot. Played by Jack O’Connell, who did a commendable job playing Louis Zamperini in last year’s Unbroken, you are left squirming in your seat as you begin to identify with his angst and suffering.
In a sense, O’Connell’s character resembles a wounded deer being hunted in a wilderness by a pack of hungry wolves. Catholics and Protestants hate each other, they jointly hate the British, and O’Connell can’t tell if the next person he meets will attempt to help him or turn him over to his pursuing assassins.
It is hard to view any of the Belfast residents as heroes despite the fact that they worship the same God. But there is an angry God, and Director Yann Demange highlights this anomaly by focusing his camera on a young boy being taught to kill.
Let me simply warn you that O’Connell’s struggle to survive will break your hardened heart.