Editor’s Notes: ’71 is now open in limited theatrical release.
Jack O’Connell is almost three months older than I am, but he’s already been in an international box office hit (300:Rise of an Empire) and starred in an Angelina Jolie- directed film that landed two Oscar nominations (Unbroken). In addition to that, O’Connell was the talk of the independent film world, first with David Mackenzie’s gripping prison drama Starred Up and now with the tense war thriller ’71. Meanwhile, I still live at home, live paycheck to paycheck and write about other people’s movie. Long story short, Jack O’Connell is going places.
Jack O’Connell’s relatability is the key factor to the success of Yann Demange’s debut feature film …
I wasn’t anywhere close to being a fan of Unbroken, but it’s impossible to watch the film and not be in awe of O’Connell’s towering screen presence. Jolie and her screenwriters made a mistake in stripping Louis of dialogue; an internal monologue would have worked just great and added so much depth to a character that apparently goes mute in the second half of the film. Regardless, O’Connell’s performance as an Olympic athletic forced to endure the atrocities of being a POW in a concentration camp was incredibly powerful. There’s a fire burning in his very soul, but he feels as real as James Dean, Leonardo DiCaprio, Marlon Brando or even Dane DeHaan did in the beginning of their careers. O’Connell never feels larger than life. He’s not a movie star. He’s a real person.
Jack O’Connell’s relatability is the key factor to the success of Yann Demange’s debut feature film ’71. O’Connell gets top billing as a British soldier thrust into 1971 Belfast, a violent and unpredictable place where at any time a bomb could go off or a riot break out. Indeed, Demange masterfully stages and executes an incredibly tense and unnervingly violent riot ten minutes into his movie, an event that causes O’Connell’s Gary Hook to be separated from the rest of his squad. Word spreads quickly throughout Belfast that a solider is lost in their city, and everyone from the IRA to the military and everyone between is after Gary for reasons violent or otherwise.
As a passive character, one where events are happening to and around him, Gary isn’t really given much to do in the grand scheme of things. However, if matters were different this film wouldn’t soar as highly as it does. Gary meets various people on his long journey home, each with their own story to tell, each with their own motives and reasonings. O’Connell may have top billing, but ’71 isn’t about Gary. It’s about the people who live in Belfast, the military troop trying to track Gary down, the IRA leaders out to kill him, the young boy who can walk into a bar and be given chips and a beer. These are the people that war and violence effects, not the soldiers.
Yann Demange shows a knack not only for action but for suspense and emotionally-charged moments.
In a sense, Gary is the viewer, thrust into the middle of a coming-of-age story where it becomes ever so clear that war isn’t black and white. There are so many factors at play, and at the end of the day was it worth it? ’71 isn’t an original premise and owes a multitude to dozens of film that have gone before it, but it especially effective as both an action thriller and an examination of war. Yann Demange shows a knack not only for action but for suspense and emotionally-charged moments. Jack O’Connell is in top form as well. Both these guys are going places. I watch their careers with great interest and excitement, regardless of wether I am still writing about other people’s movies.
There are so many factors at play, and at the end of the day was it worth it? ’71 isn’t an original premise and owes a multitude to dozens of film that have gone before it, but it especially effective as both an action thriller and an examination of war.