(Paul Anderson, Jack O'Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer, Sam Reid, et al / DVD / R / 2015 / LGF)
Overview: A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.
DVD Verdict: Set against the complex backdrop of the beginnings of Northern Ireland in 1971, but before Bloody Sunday really turned the tide in the favor of the IRA (1972), '71' is an extremely taught piece of drama. With an assured performance by rising star Jack O'Connell in the lead, he plays a young soldier Gary Hook recently deployed to Northern Ireland who finds himself out of his depth when going on his first patrol - thanks to the incompetence of his CO (Sam Reid).
Separated from his unit and lost in a city he doesn't know he's forced in a fight for survival as it's hard to tell who is friend and who is foe in this extremely well written piece of drama. The writer here has taken care not to paint one side entirely good or bad and that is how it was. Wounded and armed with nothing but a knife Hook has enemies closing in from all sides as the film draws to a bloody climax.
I don't want to be accused of gushing praise, but there is much to compliment the whole team involved here, from the tones of the production design, beautifully capturing the mood feel and look of the 1970's in drab pastels and the grey of urban decay. The editing, directing, lighting is all bang on the money but greatest of all is the casting, for it is not only O'Connell who shines here, but the younger members of the cast almost upstage him with their brilliant performances.
Indeed, two stand outs of the younger cast were Corey McKinley (sadly only listed in the vein of an "extra" on here as Loyalist Child, which seems a little unfair) and Barry Keoghan. The former is clearly a star in the making with his ballsy performance, while Keoghan with almost no lines makes an amazing impact with simple looks conveying the struggles of emotion he feels inside when it comes to committing to a path of violence.
Veteran Sean Harris brings his creepy presence to the duplicitous under cover unit commander, but it is an energetic performance by O'Connell that brings it all together. Let us hope we do not lose him to Hollywood entirely. The film also takes time to give Hooks' character some context, so we have some idea of his own life and attachments back home. A man almost without a family, but not without people who are depending on him, this is a true life depiction for many who join the army; an alternative to spending life unemployed. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1:85.1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
DVD Purchase Link