Starring: Jack O'Connell, David Wilmot, Killian Scott, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, Corey McKinley
Rated R for Strong Violence, Disturbing Images, and Language Throughout
A poor choice in director prevents "'71" from being, for lack of a better term, all it could be. The script is pure thriller, complete with a vulnerable hero and bad to the bone villains. However, the approach is that of "the most important movie of all time." By leeching all of the style and excitement out of it, it's rendered almost inert.
Gary Hook (O'Connell) is a British grunt whose unit has just been called into Belfast during the troubles. On a fairly routine mission looking for guns, he ends up getting left behind. Now he has to find a way to stay alive when just about everyone, whose motives range from benevolent to sinister, is looking for him.
This is pure Hollywood. Not that that's a bad thing. There is just as much a place for movies like "Independence Day" or "The Rock" as there is for movies like "The War Zone" or "Bloody Sunday." The problem is that the film wants to be one of the latter when it's really one of the former. Director Yann Demange adds so much weight to a simple adventure story that it collapses into pretentiousness.
Don't blame Jack O'Connell. The rising British actor made waves in last year's "Unbroken," and he does what he can here. Sadly, he's ill-suited by the screenplay. By his nature and by the needs of the plot, Gary is a quiet individual. But that robs the audience of getting to know him, which makes it difficult to care about him. O'Connell, probably sensing the script's deficiencies, tries to make up for it by relying on his body language and his expressive eyes, but that only goes so far. There are other members of the cast (both Richard Dormer and Charlie Murphy are worth mentioning as the father and daughter who reluctantly help the poor guy, as is Sam Reid, playing a much less confident commander than he did in "The Railway Man"), but this is really a one-man show.
It's a pity. With someone like Ridley Scott or perhaps Mimi Leder (she directed "The Peacemaker") at the helm, this could have been a great movie. Sadly, it's just a self-important one.