Behind Enemy Lines, but with more pints of Guinness.
Young British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) gets called away from his basic training to set up shop in Belfast where he, as well as his fellow soldiers, will help “maintain peace”. During this time, however, the exact opposite was happening with there being fights and riots breaking out all over the place between Protestants and Catholics, and once Hook arrives on the scene, he realizes this. While trying to settle down an angry mob that’s pissed off with the Army coming in and trying to take away their weapons, Hook gets separated from his fellow soldiers and is practically a walking, breathing and scared shitless target for anyone who doesn’t agree with the Army, or their tactics – which, in Belfast during this time, was practically everyone. More importantly though, Hook has to be on the lookout for loyalists and the IRA, as they feel getting a British soldier in their captivity would be absolutely what they need to help their cause a bit more over the other side. Either way, it’s just not a good position for Hook to be in and he’ll have to depend on his instincts to survive the night, and possibly get out of this terrible situation alive.
You can tell right away that it’s a very simple story. Sure, the political context to be set for this film is that it’s during the Troubles period, in which practically everybody was out to get the other side. There’s a lot more to it than that, but if you want it to be put in as simple terms as one can possibly get – all hell was practically breaking loose during this time and if a person was stuck somewhere that they shouldn’t have been, then needless to say, they were in some deep trouble.
And that’s exactly what ’71 tries to talk about for at least an hour-and-a-half. For most movies, this is a daunting task – finding a way to make even the most simple, non-complex situation, just the opposite. However, it’s a task that ’71 is more than willing to try and take on, even if it doesn’t always come out on top as the victor and is instead, more or less, the one that seems like it’s trying to go deeper than it probably should have.
For instance, there’s this whole idea that no matter what danger may be lurking at every street corner for Gary Hook, there might be somebody who appears to be on his side, looking to do the same sort of damage that his enemies want to do to him. We see this in a few characters, within a few subplots that seem to spell out the problems of corruption within the IRA, the British government, and just about anybody who had any sort of power during this time and place, and I’m not sure they all needed to be placed here, given the context of this movie. It showed us that the odds were constantly stacking up against our protagonist, but we didn’t really need to be told this with all of these different characters and their objectives.
In fact, just having Hook getting chased on the street and shot at (which does happen fairly early in the film and is downright breathtaking) was enough to make me feel like this dude could literally die at any second and the movie would be all over. His story wouldn’t be eventful, except that he was just a poor cog in the machine who had to, sadly, face the consequence of being caught in the wrong place, at especially the wrong time. That, as is, is already compelling and complex to me, but the movie felt otherwise.
Instead, it wanted to constantly get deeper, and more complex for its own good, but instead, just seemed to get more convoluted and twisty. Because it’s never made clear to us who the ones on Hook’s side are, and who aren’t, the movie runs into the problem of even confusing the audience who might want to sit by and see just what happens to this character next, what he runs into, and how he tries to get alive out of it, if at all. Maybe that’s sort of the point of this movie, which makes sense, but didn’t make the movie that much easier to sit through and understand.
That said, a good portion of this movie is thrilling, and sometimes, it doesn’t even seem to be trying.
Whether or not director Yann Demange had some help on the side from certain others involved, remains to be known, but to me, it seems like he had certain elements to this film down perfectly. Whenever Demange plays it quiet and allows for certain scenes to play out, as they would in real life, they are riveting; they don’t demand our attention, but, more or less, just calmly ask us to watch them as they go on. These scenes make the bulk of ’71 thrilling, even when it doesn’t seem to be going for that sort of Bourne-like look or feel. It just does it, which makes me wonder what the hell happened to the rest of Demange’s direction that made him pack on the pounds to this story and have it go off-the-rails, so randomly, too.
But Demange is smart in allowing for us to get behind a character like Gary Hook, even if it’s never fully clear what sort of guy this is, or better yet, why we’re being told his story. The movie gives us a few scenes with him and his son, and gives us the impression that he’s a typically okay guy, but that’s about it. I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out something that’s interesting as it works in the film’s favor and just proves my main problem with this movie even further – simplicity rules. By not diving in deep and digging around in Gary Hook’s life, we are given somebody who seems as plain and ordinary as they may come, but somehow, still works for us. Once we see that his life is in absolute peril and he is, more or less, innocent of any wrong-doings that may eventually come to him, than we’re already placed on his side for the majority of the flick that is spent watching him running, hiding, and trying to get out of this shitty situation alive and in one piece.
That said, Jack O’Connell, now a big name because of Unbroken, doesn’t really have much to do here, except pretty much the same that he did in that movie. He gets beat up a lot, stays quiet, keeps to himself, and occasionally, acts out in fright. That’s about it. It’s not that I’m not sold on the fact that O’Connell can actually act – it’s more that I feel like he hasn’t been given the right role for him yet to where he can show the whole world that he is a star, just waiting to break out at any point. Starred Up had a solid performance of his, but that’s about it, and I’ve seen maybe three other films that he’s involved in and I have yet to be fully impressed.
Oh well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Consensus: As an unpredictable, survival-story, ’71 is exciting and dangerous. But as a political-thriller, it drops the ball and feels as if it’s trying too hard to not just eat its cake, but possibly even get some seconds afterwards.
6 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images