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'71

Abandon all hope, you who enter the Divis Flats

British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) must survive the streets of Northern Ireland during the Belfast riots of 1971. <<© Crab Apple Films >>

British private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell: Unbroken) wants a station in Germany. He wants an easy assignment and money to provide for his son, in care while he’s serving. Instead he’s sent to Belfast, where the IRA is waging a bloody war against the British Crown.
    Fresh out of training and uneasy in the tense streets of Northern Ireland, Hook tries to keep his head down and collect his check. Wish again.
    An inexperienced officer leads his platoon into a riot. Sent into a swarm of protesters to retrieve a stolen gun, Hook sees his comrade’s head blown off and his fellow soldiers beating a hasty retreat — without him.
    An easy target in his British fatigues, Hook flees, evading IRA gunmen and angry citizens. To survive the night in Divis Flats, an IRA stronghold, he must also avoid IRA spies and steer clear of the roving gangs of Molotov cocktail-wielding rioters.
    Hook’s run through the Flats drives a wedge in the already segmented IRA. The old-school members are horrified at the murder of a soldier and fearful that killing Hook will bring the British in bloody invasion. The young IRA want blood and don’t care whose.
    With a soldier stranded in enemy territory, the British military turns to undercover agents. But the spies have their own agenda, a planned counter-strike against the IRA. Hook’s death might just further their plans.
    Can anyone leave Divis Flats alive?
    Director Yann Demange (Top Boy) uses handheld cameras to follow Hook on his dashes through the shadows as the city burns around him. Though handheld can become pointlessly shaky, here the technique compliments Hook’s frenetic journey through the night. Demange also keeps his film looking authentic by using a muted color palate and soft focus that looks like it was shot during the 1971 Belfast riots.
    At the heart of ’71 is O’Connell, who is masterful as the frantic Hook. In his previous starring role in Angelina Jolie’s run-of-the-mill Unbroken, O’Connell was forced into the generic hero role. In ’71, Demange unleashes O’Connell on the screen with brilliant results. Hook is a barely competent kid utterly terrified of the men with guns chasing him. A man without a plan, he simply reacts to what’s happening around him with more luck than skill. When he must fight, his barely contained panic fuels his blows.
    Don’t bother to buy popcorn; you’ll be too breathless to eat it.

Great Drama • R • 99 mins.