The conflict in Northern Ireland has traditionally been a subject that many filmmakers have shied away from. The complicated political and religious entanglements have made The Troubles a difficult issue to cover. However, exceptions to the rule include In the Name of the Father and The Crying Game. That movie gave Forest Whitaker one of his first big cinematic roles. I expect the '71 cast will enjoy careers equal to, if not greater than Whitaker's based on their performances in this movie.
'71 takes the audience to Belfast during the height of the troubles. The decisions of an inexperienced army officer lead to a young British soldier being separated from his unit and left to fend for himself in the backstreets of Belfast. What happens next can be best described as a high octane chase movie.
If the Provisional IRA can capture the soldier it will represent a massive PR coup for the Irish Republican movement. The young soldier is aware that capture by the IRA will result in his execution at the hands of the paramilitaries. To survive he must reach a British Army base. Or he can take his chances with Loyalist paramilitaries and hope that they will deliver him to the British authorities. But who do you trust when you're alone in a conflict where friend and foe all look and sound alike?
The film was a directing debut for Yann Demange. He won the Best Independent Director for this movie and it is easy to see why. The film was beautifully shot and the casting is exceptional. Jack O'Connell pulls off an amazing performance and is thoroughly convincing throughout. Corey McKinley who plays a young Loyalist paramilitary is clearly a star of the future. Other standout performances in this film include Paul Anderson (from Peaky Blinders) and Sean Harris. Both play members of the Military Reaction Force and they deliver the demanding roles brilliantly. It's their characters that end up asking the most difficult questions throughout the movie.
The film raises legitimate questions about the conflict which has often been described as ‘The Dirtiest of Dirty Wars'. Nevertheless, it is gripping entertainment even for those with a basic understanding of the politics involved.