‘ 71

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Robert Ker

’ 71 , war thriller, rated R, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 2.5 chiles

War movies fre­quently take place in for­eign ter­ri­tory, with sto­ries that cen­ter on sol­diers adrift in a strange land, far from home. Themes of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness are never far from the fore, which is what makes the “band of broth­ers” fac­tor so com­pelling. In ’71 (the film’s ti­tle refers to the year 1971), we open with a Bri­tish com­pany train­ing on home soil — soon, in the­ory, to be sent to Ger­many. In­stead, it’s routed to Belfast to as­sist in polic­ing the vi­o­lence in North­ern Ire­land dur­ing what was known as the Trou­bles, a pe­riod last­ing from 1968 to 1998.

Its pur­pose there seems rather vague, to both the com­pany’s sol­diers — they’re to look im­pos­ing with­out ac­tu­ally en­forc­ing mar­tial law — and 2015 au­di­ences in Amer­ica. Per­haps be­cause of their am­bigu­ous role, the young sol­diers don’t quite know how to re­act when a Catholic mob ri­ots. The Ir­ish Catholics look like the English and live in places not un­like those the English live in. The for­eign el­e­ment of the war film is gone. How do you par­tic­i­pate in a con­flict in your own backyard, against your neigh­bors? Do you raise your guns against chil­dren throw­ing rocks?

Such is­sues of con­science soon be­come moot for Gary Hook (Jack O’Con­nell), a sol­dier who leaves his com­pany to chase a boy who has stolen a ma­chine gun and soon finds him­self trapped in hos­tile ter­ri­tory. The ac­tion fol­lows Gary, but it also shows dif­fer­ent fac­tions in­volved in the con­flict, ob­serv­ing them all with an ob­jec­tive eye. Th­ese treat­ments of­fer a fas­ci­nat­ing study, but the film doesn’t let us get to know any of its char­ac­ters and be­come emo­tion­ally at­tached to them. Nev­er­the­less, ev­ery­thing in ’71 looks won­der­ful: First-time direc­tor Yann De­mange and cine­matog­ra­pher Tat Rad­cliffe paint the screen with a fine sense of chiaroscuro, us­ing dark­ness and sil­hou­ettes to evoke the wartime noir in films like 1969’s Army of Shad­ows and an ef­fec­tive cinéma vérité ap­proach to con­vey­ing the chaos.

’71 closely re­calls direc­tor Steve McQueen’s 2008 film, Hunger , and not just be­cause both films cen­ter on the decades-ago strug­gles of the peo­ple of North­ern Ire­land. That film also seems like a di­rec­to­rial call­ing card, af­ter its re­lease al­low­ing McQueen to show au­di­ences and fu­ture in­vestors that he’s a gifted film­maker with a unique tal­ent for stag­ing scenes. McQueen went on to ac­claim and awards just a few years later with 12 Years a Slave . Judg­ing by his own achieve­ments here, it’s easy to imag­ine De­mange hav­ing a sim­i­lar ca­reer path. For now, this film is not a great movie so much as a great col­lec­tion of tools and tech­niques the direc­tor might some­day use to as­sem­ble a master­piece.

Stop the mad­ness: Corey McKin­ley and Jack O’Con­nell

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