What to Expect
“This looks like a war movie.”, someone remarked.
I couldn’t have agreed more, ‘cause the trailers did give the movie’s universe more of a war-torn vibe than anything else. But there was something about the trailer that gripped me right from the beginning of it all – it made me pine for the film.
But of course, the other reason the mass would expect something of the movie is Jack O’Connell, who stunned everyone with his performance in the prison crime drama Starred Up last year, what with the film in itself wowing the critics hard last year.
Personally though, I desperately wanted to like this film a lot. I can’t specifically point out why – but I guess there was something about it that made me cross my fingers in desperation over the hopes of it meeting my expectations. But it is this very thing, unfortunately – the extremely high expectations I suddenly had of the film – that made me fear a potentially imminent dislike of the film.
Guess sometimes things just fall into place though, don’t they?
What’s it About?
A soldier gets trapped in the midst of a terrible unrest in Belfast. His journey throughout the nightmarish situation accounts for the story of the whole film.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The one thing people must note about this particular film is that it’s more of a character journey that turns progressively into a horrible nightmare more than anything else. The film is indeed based on “The Troubles” – or what may have been the beginning of it all – but what it depicts more than the potential preaching, more than the messages it could have given, more than the stereotypical nobility the movie could have made of itself, is the disintegration of individuals and their desperate attempts at survival. Movies like the Terrence Malick directed The Thin Red Line have made sensational attempts at trying to look at the very psyche of human beings caught up in a situation none of them would have appreciated being a part of in an ideal scenario. This film – although not by any means a war film – walks along the same lines of how grey areas disintegrate the more grounded individuals in extreme events.
One of the biggest achievements the film has made is that its director – Yann Demange – manages to make a quiet feature film that speaks louder than its background score ordinarily would have in a film slotted in this situation. Ordinarily enough, in character journeys, there’s a lot that’s given into developing a character during its writing stages, making him/her more full-bodied in the metaphorical sense of words. This time, although we’re given a peek at his ordinary life, we’re not told much about him. This can definitely put a whole set of people off to a large extent. If one, however, stops to see the larger picture, there’s ample justification to this tactic through the very breathlessly brisk writing of acclaimed playwright Gregory Burke. While justification decidedly manipulates the viewers to think of a character in a certain way, just placing a person throughout it all will have made more sense.
The story is specifically linear. Never has one, however, been sporadically surprised by the various different agendas of the different supporting characters spread out through the events unfolding in the film. The people haven’t been shown as specifically extreme characters. They’re quite straightforward – doing what they do while they do it. Their actions might not be according to the moral construct, but to them and their personal views, they’re doing the right thing – or so one will feel according to the way the writing and ultimate direction tries not to pick sides.
The brisk pace of the film veers very much away from being a drama, entering the territory of the action thriller, with vivid brushstrokes of survival. The handheld camerawork supports the absolutely stunning cinematographic sweeps amongst the ravaged remains of the quaint residential colonies of Belfast. There is more expression through the way the camera moves here, which is what hits the nail right on the head. There’s an absolutely well-directed, shot and edited chase that sets us up for the gravity of the situation the protagonist is facing. Chris Wyatt’s edit is most definitely swift and tight, but the real trump card of it all lies not in the swift cuts, but in how much they’re able to show in a single edited shot – especially relative to the numerous cases of gimmicky editing in action set pieces.
The little problems that lie through the film are its core technical issues through filming of the movie. There’s a certain scene which is bound to shock the viewers from their reverie; it arrives out of nowhere. While the makers generate for terrific impact, the apparent visual effects that support the shot might not be on par, when looked at objectively. Furthermore, while the camerawork is absolutely stunning, there are some shots where it seems there’s a lens being adjusted, a bit of zoom here, a bit of movement there – all improv. While I personally wouldn’t know the big picture of what the makers were trying to achieve here, these moments are bound to distract some of the more discerning viewers from the main plot of the film.
To Perform or Not to Perform
The one thing that really makes the movie absolutely pop is Jack O’Connell’s terrific performative dynamics. He’s a brilliant one, restraining himself and adding in shades of vulnerability and fear through the film’s runtime. Barry Keoghan delivers a calculated performance as a boy swayed onto ‘the other side’ with his conscience constantly questioning him. His minimal expressions strike the right balance throughout his donning the character. Sean Harris (Prometheus) has a fantastic screen presence here; you’re always a step ahead in trying to decipher what he has going on in that head of his as he is the character. Corey McKinley has a relatively shorter screen time, but delivers an electrifying performance, which is commendable considering his age. Sam Reid is nice to watch on screen considering his character is basically good-guy 101 minus the overindulgence. Charlie Murphy delivers efficiently; she however falls into a performance category – which may not necessarily be her fault. Others are great.
I cannot be resounding enough in my attempt to tell everyone how much this movie deserves to be seen. In an absolute plethora of commercialism hounding the screens, this turns out to be a brilliantly narrated thrill-ride of a realtime-esque journey film. The movie may most definitely give out the misplaced vibe of a war movie, but is an effective survival action-thriller type that grips you for its runtime – a minute short of a hundred. Visceral in its telling, and multilayered in its narrative, the film delivers the goods like no other. The movie’s definitely not for everyone, but the strength in itself lies in how brilliantly it uses its techniques to tell a linear story, ravaging in content, and heartbreakingly, breathlessly visceral in soul.
Before signing out, here’s my humble plea to everyone reading this: if you love cinema and you find ‘71 playing at a theatre near you, please do make an attempt to watch the film. It is an experience alright.
Watch the trailer
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