'71 looks at a young private from Leeds who is sent to Belfast as the battle between Catholics and Protestants reaches a sort-of apex, and amidst a small street skirmish, the young private is jettisoned for the safety of the rest of the unit, under the guidance of an inexperienced lieutenant. In a land foreign to him, with threats chasing after him with varying degrees of intensity, our young private has to try and survive as the day becomes night, and the threats become active.
Warp Films have previously given us such great British works as Submarine, Tyrannosaur and This Is England, but never has their output managed to craft such a constantly intense, stomach-churningly, please let me look away because it's so nerve-shredding, experience as the one presented in '71, which begins nicely enough sprinkling humour around with glee, but as soon as we head to Belfast and the troubles, ahem, begin, good luck not clutching your armrest in terror. It is impossible to list one person who shines brightest among the cast, although plaudits and attention is going to lead Jack O'Connell, the entire ensemble nails their role each well, providing suitably antagonism, friendliness, small comic relief and nasty bureaucracy to help the film hit shock and turn among shock and turn until a riveting climax that has prolonged sequences that just make you want to fast-forward, knowing the tension is too much to bare. In the best way possible.
Yann Demange makes his feature debut bringing some glorious sequences of tension to fruition, as well as creating a vision that is 'on the streets' whilst nailing the aesthetic required of a film set in that era. It is grimy and grainy, the colours are muted and off-brown mostly. This is a stunning cinematic work, taking the simplicity of a behind enemy lines story and throwing in the kitchen sink, slices of history and yet never stopping that get in the way of the most basic choices in storytelling that make the film utterly compelling and from very early on brutal and intent on not letting the audience get away scot-free.
'71 Is one of the finest films of the year, a cracking piece of work and something British cinema can be proud of, a truly suspenseful, intense film that will never let you go during its runtime, and stick with you long after as well. Of all the releases, big and small, this week, '71 is the one to see, and then talk about for days, weeks, months afterwards. Incredible.