Yann Demange’s debut feature is a blistering, disturbing portrayal of one British soldier’s attempt to get back to his Belfast barracks after being stranded behind enemy lines during the Troubles. Jack O’Connell gives a muscular performance as Gary Hook, a young recruit injured in a riot and lost among rows of red brick houses. Initially his concern is to avoid the IRA gang chasing him through the city. As the film progresses, however, it becomes less and less clear whom he can trust.
Although the story is rooted in reality – Demange’s up-close, visceral style owes a debt to Paul Greengrass – the film succeeds as much as an action movie as a political thriller. O’Connell takes a similar place to Kurt Russell in a John Carpenter film: he's thrown into a bewildering, nightmarish world, and his challenge is to survive against the odds. Scripted by Gregory Burke (the man behind acclaimed play Black Watch), ’71 is authentic and powerful, and deals with the shady politics of the era without ever being bogged down by them. [Sam Lewis]