Two years before the events in this movie Van Morrison recorded one of my favorite albums of all time, Astral Weeks, as a homesick tribute to his home of Belfast. The mystical place he was singing about though was already nothing but a memory by the time he made that very ahead of its’ time album, and by the time the events in this movie transpire, that memory was being torn to shreds.
The year, as one could hopefully guess, is 1971, and young British soldier Gary has gotten himself into a very messy situation indeed.
After being cut off from his unit during a routine operation, he is trapped in war torn Belfast during one of the peaks of the long violent war between the British government and the I.R.A. Jack O’Connell plays Gary, not like a badass action hero on the prowl, but more realistically a scared young man, almost a boy, caught in a nightmare beyond his ability to comprehend.
He is surrounded on all sides by people who want to kill him, and the scant few who wish to help him make themselves targets of violence in the process.
This movie takes place during the time frame of one very suspenseful night and does a terrific job of pulling the viewer in on the experience. The movie does a remarkable job of showing the humanity and dignity of all sides involved, from the men, and boys, trying to hunt down Gary to end his life, to the British agents out to track him down more to cover their own ass rather than because they have any depth of feeling for human life itself.
This movie has nearly everything I crave about reality based war movies. It is the rare movie that is able to show all participants in a sympathetic light without coming off as overly preachy or wishy washy. It is ripe with the complexities of life, and haunted with the lingering presence of death.
’71 gets a four out of five: GREAT.