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'71 (2015)

Film: '71 (2015)
Stars: Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer, Jack Lowden, Charlie Murphy, David Wilmot, Sean Harris
Director: Yann Demange
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

One of the hardest aspects of foreign films, regardless of whether or not there is a language barrier, is the context.  I frequently find this is true in exporting American cinema, where films that are mammoth hits here like The Help don't translate as well overseas due to the film's history not being as accessible to your common viewer as it is to someone from that country.  I kept thinking this thought when I was watching '71, a film set during the height of The Troubles, a turbulent time in Irish history, and how I was trying to deduce what parts I was confused because of my lack of knowledge and what parts were being thrown asunder through the film's minimalist character development.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Gary Hook (O'Connell) as he is drawn into first the world of the military and then into a random chase across the streets of Belfast, where alliances are continuously shifting.  The film is very well-paced, which is absolutely its best attribute.  The film doesn't go for many big moments, so when they happen (particularly a chilling and unexpected death scene about halfway through the movie, as well as the climactic moments when Hook is found by everyone who has been chasing him) they pay off.  The movie has so many characters that it's a bit hard to follow and feels more like something that you'd see on a lower-grade cable network (gritty, lots of talking between seemingly non-descript character actors) than an actual film, and in service to the characters you feel like the movie should have trimmed some fat in that regard, but you never quite feel that way while watching the movie, just after when you're trying to remember who was loyal to whom.

The film's history is probably part of this lack of character development.  I frequently talk about how books should never have to be read to see a film, and I feel a similar way with history (though one man's common knowledge is another's new discovery, so this is a slippery slope).  All-in-all, though, this movie probably needed a bit more of a spelling out as to exactly why these alliances kept shifting-we get that everyone is corrupt, but since no one seems to have a name that stands out and so many people are just surface-level characters, it's hard to connect with the actual plot that's being thrown at us.  Again, the pacing fixes most of this so there's no confusion over whether this is a bad movie (it isn't, though I don't know if it's really a good one either), but the editors can only do so much and without stronger stand-out work from the supporting characters we get a bit lost in who is backstabbing whom.

The film also does not do enough with Jack O'Connell in the central role.  O'Connell, now an actor I've seen in a couple things, is still not connecting with me as other than a moody young James Franco (at best)-he's weirdly attractive (more so than his very angular face should allow), and he was charming in the comic moments of Unbroken, but sullen is not a color worn well on him, and he frequently relies on too minimalist of instincts.  He's not bad, per se, but he's not great and I am starting to have my worries about his rising star.  Particularly in the late parts of the film, where he has to jump into being a war-torn broken man (yelling and screaming at random people), this feels very inauthentic and doesn't jive with his character work earlier in the movie.  His Gary remains unknowable, and considering he's in 80% of the film and us relating to the character is crucial to the film's devices, this is a pretty solid miss.

Those are my thoughts on this movie, one of the few films in theaters right now that I'm genuinely excited about-what are yours?  If you haven't seen it, chime in on your thoughts on Jack O'Connell, who seems destined to be a star in the next few years regardless of what we think.

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