’71 falls squarely into the “Man Having the Worst Violence-Filled Day Ever” genre of action movies. It is in many ways a low-budget Die Hard set in 1971 Belfast.
English soldier, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) and his battalion are separated during a riot, and Hook is left behind in enemy territory. Alone and in unfamiliar territory, Hook tries to make his way back to the barracks and avoid the Provisional IRA. Along the way, he witnesses things he shouldn’t and soon has other parties after his hide as well.
O’Connell is brilliant in the lead role. Hook spends much of his time hiding, skulking, and trying to be unobtrusive, but O’Connell does quite a lot without much dialogue. The film is taut, tense and surprising, and much of the praise should go to screenwriter, Gregory Burke. The tangled mess of the Troubles and the shifting alliances operating beneath the surface are all brought to the fore as Hook stumbles his way through Belfast trying to survive. Director, Yann Demange, keeps the tension ramped up, and when all the parties converge on a housing estate for the dénouement we truly have no idea what might happen. I was white-knuckling it all the way through the end.