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’71 is a grittily realized independent thriller that benefits from its remarkable filmmaking and brutal stylization. The strong direction by Yann Demange demonstrates a profound knowlege of the elements of a thrilling feature, and make for an exhilirating film.

Set in Belfast, ’71 follows the story of the young soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), who is deployed to moderate the violence between Catholics and Protestants. When the conflict turns from dangerous to deadly, Hook is trapped within the combat zone and finds himself the prey to a group of deadly criminals. Completely abandoned by his troops, Hook must survive the night in the foreign landscape.

Yann Demange directs an exciting directorial debut; from the film’s opening scenes, the tension and brutality are felt, and the emotional undercurrent is strong. Demange crafts some extremely intense sequences that don’t rely on needless conflict, and center on the implication rather than the action. The gritty style produces a brutally realistic film, and though the violence is excessive at points, the film’s script does a great job exploring the selfish act of murder and man’s desire for change.

Gregory Burke’s screenplay is similarly strong. Though the realism can sometimes distract from the character arc or narrative structure, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way that are shocking to the audience, but still feel natural within the cohesive story. The dialogue is strong and emphasizes realism, but still works in cinematic nature; for example, the dialogue between Hook and his son highlight some of the film’s core themes.

Jack O’Connell, who made a big debut last year with Unbroken and Starred Up, is excellent in the film. O’Connell delivers a raw and intimate performance, as the film’s intense events are felt throughout due to O’Connell’s work. O’Connell does an excellent job in the action sequences, but it’s in his more emotional or breakdown scenes that his best work is seen. His performance is completely believable, and the rigorous elements of a soldier’s life can be felt in his performance.

At 99 minutes, ’71 is unusually short, yet perfectly paced. Though some scenes can drag out longer, and the second act does feel slightly stretched, the film delivers it’s entire plot within its runtime. The film’s ending wraps up the conflict and message perfectly, and the entire tone feels very consistent throughout.

The only major problem facing ’71 is some of it’s camerawork. The handheld camera style works well in some scenes, particularly a chase scene near the film’s beginning, but it can often feel distracting and dilutes the film’s intensity. The quick cut style adds a lot of intensity, but occasional shakiness feels like its adding artificial tension to the story, instead of allowing the story’s natural tension to play out. Similarly, the use of camera focus the camera is ineffective in its attempts to heighten the realism. Thankfully, the style utilizes longer takes in the film’s final scenes.

’71 is a powerful film that presents a brilliant storyline and delivers on its premise. The duo of Demange and O’Connell present a thrilling film that is both exhilarating and heartfelt. Grade: B+

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