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‘71 captures grim realities of war

'71’71, which stars Jack O’Connell (from the movie Unbroken) is an Irish historical war drama that takes place in 1971 in Belfast, Ireland and is about a young British soldier named Gary Hook who accidentally gets abandoned by the soldiers that he is with during a riot in the streets and must try to survive in a war zone. (This is Hook’s first time in a war situation.) The two sides in the conflict, which was known as “the Troubles,” are the Protestants and the Catholics. The British soldier and his troops are on the side of the Protestants.

The movie is very suspenseful and well-paced, with O’Connell in a strong performance, making us sympathize with his character and the situation that he is in. He is trying to escape the Catholic IRA soldiers who know he is in their area of Belfast and are trying to kill him. There are multiple twists and turns and shifting character motivations, requiring the viewer to pay close attention. I liked how there were some moral dilemmas set up in the film.

The film has a docudrama feel to it, with the action scenes quite well done. The dialogue is sometimes hard to understand with the thick accents, although I did not find that to be a flaw, as that is how some people in that area talk.  This is not really a criticism, but I think that the film would benefit from a second viewing, so as to pick up on subtleties and dialogue that could easily have gotten lost the first time around.

This comes across as an anti-war movie in its depiction of things. At one point, the doctor who is tending to Hook after he has been injured says to Hook, regarding soldiers, “We are all pieces of meat.”

Some shortcomings in the picture that come to mind are why would Hook wander off after the bomb goes off in the bar if he was already in Protestant territory? Thus, he was putting himself in potential danger. Early scenes in the movie, in which Hook says goodbye to a boy he sees in an orphanage or group home, are confusing – it is not made clear if the youngster is his brother or his son. Also, I thought that the movie should have ended earlier than it did.

Through this movie, we are able to learn about a conflict that was likely not widely known about. While certainly bleak, the compelling situation at hand with Hook’s character keeps us glued.

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