Monday, 14 December 2015

'71 (2015) - Movie Review

http://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.comJack O’Connell as a prisoner of war? Didn’t I already review this movie earlier this year? Well, thankfully, rather than dealing with yet another WWII drama, because for some reason people think that we still haven’t gotten enough of those yet, we’re dealing with a different skirmish this time round. Today’s film is set during the Irish civil war, otherwise known as ‘the Troubles’. Now, aside from little titbits I’ve picked up from videos made by fellow reviewer and friend of the blog Diamanda Hagan, I’m not too familiar with all the specifics about what went down. For the sake of summary, it involved Northern Ireland wanting to become its own territory separate from the United Kingdom, so war broke out between the Northern Irish nationalists and the Irish loyalists. Since we’ve gotten more than enough media concerning the U.S. civil war for independence, it’s already a welcome change of pace to see a film go after another historical conflict. But does it do it well?

The plot: In 1971, at the height of the Troubles, a platoon of British soldiers were deployed into Belfast to assist the loyalist police force. However, one soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally left behind by the rest of his team as they retreat from the front line. Stranded alone behind enemy lines, and not knowing whom he can trust, he limps his way around hoping to find help. Meanwhile, when knowledge of his present predicament becomes public, both the nationalists and the loyalists want to reach him before the other does.

Hook’s purpose to the overall story is two-fold, and unfortunately neither of them are as a character in his own right. One is to serve as the audience avatar, as his very long night stay in Belfast exposes him, and by extension us, further under the surface of the conflict. The other is as the walking MacGuffin as, for one reason or another, everyone involved in the civil war want to get their hands on him. This use of characters to fulfil purposes within the story, and not much else, extends to the supporting cast as well: In the grand scheme of the plot, they are just faceless playing pieces that get shifted around to create conflict. I specify ‘faceless’ because, if we’re being honest, that is true for pretty much any character in any work of fiction. It’s just that, usually, it’s better hidden than it is here.

This isn’t helped by the frankly confusing nature of the plot. Now, this is genuinely surprising considering the film is all about Hook and his attempts to get back to the barracks. Where this gets confusing is when you include the warring factions involved in the Troubles and which side the other characters belong to. Having sat through the film with my usual need to over-analyse and reading through the Wikipedia synopsis after the fact, I’m still confused about what side some of the characters are on, let alone keeping clear all the heel turns that occur during the running time. This isn’t helped by how some of the actors somewhat look alike, making it even worse when trying to keep character identities straight.

However, in the film’s defence, there is a point to the alliances being this muddled. The fuel to this film’s dramatic fire is the isolation and paranoia on Hook’s part. He is stuck in the middle of a domestic war zone that he admits that is not entirely knowledgeable about (like most audiences outside of the U.K.), without any of his fellow troops, and he isn’t 100% sure who he can trust. This film is amazingly good at portraying tension, through its gritty production values, cramped shaky-cam and unflinching sensibilities when it comes to violence. There is no compromise when it comes to depicting what people are willing to do, and who they’re willing to kill off, and it get legitimately unsettling with how much it shows. Then again, we’re talking about a rather brutal part of European history; it works for the setting to be this graphic.

As is the case with pretty much any film involving soldiers, we get commentary on the nature of warfare: How dirty it is, what it is like for people who caught in the crossfire, and the attitudes of those higher up in the military food chain. However, I can’t really say that it is all that interesting, nor is it even put into focus at any point in the story other than slap-bang at the end. I’ve mentioned before how repeating past ideas isn’t inherently bad; it’s more a matter of how they are used. Here, we get bits and pieces of how soldiers are seen as just “pieces of meat”, but with how randomly it’s inserted in, it feels like it was included just because it’s in every other war film.

All in all, this is a very well-made and grimy war thriller, never flinching at the sight of what both sides are willing to do to win, all carried out by terrific actors. Credit, again, is also due for delving into a different war story as inspiration for a film, and it definitely shows more than enough promise for more cinematic potential. However, between the chess piece plot progression and relatively weak characterisation, it gets more than a little confusing at times to keep track of which character is on what side, save for our focal point character in the form of Hook.

No comments:

Post a Comment