Few actors in recent memory have announced themselves onto the cinema scene as impressively as Jack O’Connell has in the last year. He was breathtakingly strong opposite Ben Mendelsohn in the prison drama Starred Up, playing a young offender with an explosive temper who joins his father in prison. The scenes between father and son were electric. O’Connelll navigated the subtle changes in his characters behaviour brilliantly in Starred Up. Next up, Unbroken the Angelina Jolie helmed major studio epic, had him portray real life survivor Louis Zamperini. The performance was unrecognisable compared to his earlier work and he carried the leading role off with great maturity. Jolie commenting on why she chose him for the role, remarked, “he’s full of fire.”
His latest role in 71 made prior to Unbroken and after Starred Up has him play a British Soldier who finds himself abandoned by his platoon on the streets of Belfast. Directed by French born British Yann Demange this taut exciting thriller uses the political backdrop of Belfast in the seventies to frame the narrative. Will the young soldier Gary Hook (O’Connell) get out of Belfast alive? Echoes of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York, and the urban films of Walter Hill (Thhe Warriors) filter through the narrative. Clearly the political manouverings from all sides are against him, as Gary runs, walks, and hides for his life in the streets, laneways and apartment buildings of the war torn city. In the end all sides conspire, ranging from the differing IRA factions, the Protestant paramilitaries and even his own army’s counter intelligence officers led by the treachorous Captain Browning (Sean Harris terrific).
Shot largely on steadicam and at night (digital) by Director of Photography Tat Radcliffe (Pride), the film recalls the early work of Paul Greengrass primarily Bloody Sunday (2002) a riveting doco drama about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Edited to within an inch of its life by Chris Wyatt the streets of Belfast full of fire and violence carry an atmosphere of unrelenting tension. Will Gary make it home to see his little brother?