Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYFF ’14: ’71
to Scotland’s independence referendum, Northern Ireland will probably get a
taste of Devo Max. The increased autonomy would hardly have satisfied the
irrationally violent “Provisional” IRA in the 1970s. One British soldier
stranded in the wrong neighborhood will try to elude the faction’s death squad,
but there will be other interested parties also hunting him in Yann Demange’s ’71 (trailer here), which screens as
a Main Slate selection of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
Gary Hook’s unit has been hurriedly dispatched to Belfast, which is just as
much a part of the UK as Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square. Yet, it is most
definitely dangerous duty. On his first waking day in Northern Ireland, Hook
finds himself facing down a mob. Trying to build trust, the relatively green
Lieutenant sent them out in berets rather than flak helmets. In retrospect,
this was a mistake. As the chaos spirals out of control, Hook and his mate
Thompson are separated from the unit. Thompson takes a bullet to the head from
a Provisional assassin, but Hook is able to elude the gunman and his partner.
finds a temporary refuge, but he has no idea how to reach his barracks. He is
surrounded by a Catholic population that would either like to kill him or is
too frightened of the various IRA contingents to protect him. Nevertheless, he
finds guide in the form of the rabble-rousing seven year old nephew of a
high-ranking Protestant paramilitary. Unfortunately, this only leads to more
trouble, when Hook narrowly survives an accidental bomb detonation that could
deeply embarrass a small detachment of sinister British intelligence officers.
Hook’s death would be quite convenient for them.
’71 has an
overpowering sense of place, but instead of Belfast, it was shot in Liverpool,
Blackburn, Sheffield, and Leeds, which does not say much for those municipalities’
urban ambiance. It looks like the entire city is a housing project (or an
estate in British parlance). As night falls, Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography becomes
ghostly disorienting, perfectly mirroring Hook’s increasingly confused state
and powerfully reinforcing the edgy vibe.
star Jack O’Connell looks ridiculously young and lost in the grim,
battle-scarred world, but that is the whole point. In fact, he is quite effective
as an earnest and innocent POV figure for the audience to identify with. Many
of the assorted combatants rather blur together, but David Wilmot stands out as
Boyle, the local old guard IRA leader. Babou Ceesay (who deserves to become a
series regular after his guest spot on last season’s Lewis) is also terrific as the hard but decent Corporal. However, Corey
McKinley upstages everyone as Hook’s ferocious young ally (evidently W.C.
Fields was right, even in Belfast).
Despite portraying some pretty savage behavior
on the part of the IRA factions and their sympathizers, Demange and screenwriter
Gregory Burke go out of their way to paint the British Army in a negative
light. (I’d still trust the honor and professionalism of Her Majesty’s armed
forces over any other military, aside from America’s armed services.)
Regardless, Demange crafts a tight, tense white knuckle night of the soul. He
certainly proves he can stage a riot. Although they are radically different in
many respects, the one film ’71 consistently
brings to mind is Carol Reed’s absolutely classic Odd Man Out, which is a heavy statement. Recommended on balance for
patrons who appreciate gritty military thrillers, ’71 screens again tonight (9/28) at the Walter Reade, as part of
this year’s NYFF.
Labels: British Cinema, NYFF '14