Films blending fact and fiction can generally work. If the script successfully intertwines real and fictional events, the story can maintain engagement. It’s an art form most can muster and one that ‘71’ reasonably does. Using the backdrop of the near 30 year Northern Ireland conflict The Troubles, ‘71’ brings the fraught danger of those times to stark life.

Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is a new British army recruit. Sent to Belfast in 1971 in the early days of The Troubles, his platoon is deployed to an area filled with division. While going about his duties, Hook is accidentally abandoned by his unit after a furious street riot. Alone in an unknown area, Hook must navigate his way through a deadly landscape where friend and foe is hard to distinguish.

Showing the bloody conflict with stark authenticity, ‘71’ is a study in tense atmosphere. Despite being trained in a team environment, Hook spends the majority of the time on his own. The only person he can truly trust is himself with the motivations of various factions within the conflict his real enemy. You’re never quite sure whether the next person will help or hinder Hook’s quest for survival which makes for edge of seat viewing.

Resting squarely on O’Connell’s shoulders, ‘71’ is a good showcase for his talent. Although more background into his character would have been welcome, the script provides a general sense of his mood. As with the other characters, the subtle movements Hook makes are just as powerful as dialogue. The bursts of violent action conveys the conflict’s ongoing ferocity with Yann Demange’s efficient direction wasting little time in highlighting the story’s points.

Tough and uncompromising, ‘71’ achieves its balancing act of presenting facts within its thriller confines. Managing to maintain it while pushing the story along at a cracking pace is the film’s main success. It also offers an engrossing insight in survival in all its forms until its final denouncement.

Rating out of 10: 7


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