Saturday, May 23, 2015

’71: Take a Dramamine and One or Two Aspirins


     ’71, the film debut of French television director Yann Demange, moves at an electric pace like an update of Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947), in which James Mason played a wounded IRA bank robber struggling to remain alive with the police after him in a Belfast-like city.  In ’71, Jack O’Connell is an English soldier, who finds himself abandoned after a
house raid for weapons goes wrong, and has no idea where to turn in the rabbit warren of alleyways in a part of Belfast that is Catholic and anti-English.  The plot sounds straightforward, but there’s a parallel story, which is far more sinister and complex involving political expediencies and double crosses on both sides.

Jack O'Connell
     Argo (2012) started with an overview of American involvement in Iran, which put the siege and abandonment of the embassy and the hostage-taking in context.  I’d be surprised that Britons under the age of forty remember the intricacies of the English (Protestant) – Irish (Catholic) civil war and the height of its violence forty-four years ago.  I can’t think that Americans would be familiar with any of this.  ’71 shows a (brief) briefing scene in which the squad leader sees a map of the city by friendly and hostile neighborhoods.  The soldiers don’t see this and the viewer never has a sense of where the scenes are set in terms of friend or foe.  Uncertainty works as the undertow to the suspense, but it also yields a limited and ultimately cynical view of the struggle.

     It achieves a verisimilitude with British films from the ‘70s through great, grubby production design and lighting that looks smoky and gritty in the daylight sequences and oily at night.  The editing and camerawork are the most memorable of their kind since The Hurt Locker (2009).  In fact, this may be a sub-genre in itself, starting with Bloody Sunday (2002), of the slashing naturalistic re-enactment of recent historical conflict.  The realistic acting, authentic because none of these actors would ever be featured in an American movie – even an Oscar contender. They look like people walking the streets of Belfast that might shake hands or shoot you.

    There are moments of real shock and horror.  Neil had had enough after ten minutes because of the violence.  The makeup in the killings is breath-taking (and not in an enjoyable way), even for those that have seen countless criminal justice TV shows.  A bomb scene stunned me that I saw coming, but not when it hit.

No comments: