The spirit of John Carpenter is alive and well in director Yann Demange’s ’71. Echoing classic Carpenter pics such as Assault on Precinct 13, Demange’s film is a stripped down, tense, thrilling piece of work that puts him on the map as a director to look out for.
The story – set in Northern Ireland in 1971 (hence the title) – concerns in-over-his-head British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell). After his first posting lands him in a Belfast troubles hotspot, Hook finds himself separated from his unit inside a hostile Catholic area with IRA gunmen on his tail. Wounded and without weapons, can he make it back to his barracks alive? Will the Ulster Unionists he encounters be more of a help or a hindrance? Or will his own comrades manage to rescue him first?
It is important to make clear that ’71 is not a political film. It simply uses the volatile situation in 1970s Belfast as a backdrop for an invigorating, palm-sweating chase movie that has an admirably spare relentlessness to it. O’Connell and the rest of the cast are good, and Demange stages a number of riveting sequences. On moment in particular recalls the foot chase of Point Break and has the same intensity. Whilst this is clearly a genre piece, Gregory Burke’s screenplay does not duck the horrific trauma of what it means to actually kill somebody, and whilst the film does contain a number of plot contrivances, they do not occur at the expense of realism. Hence why I must now add the regulation warning for strong language and violence.
All in all, a fine piece of work.