Stirring ‘ ’71’ jolts with immediacy

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Jack O’Connell could use a breather. In “Unbroken,” the British actor played a character who was stranded at sea and then tortured within an inch of his life inside of a Japanese prison camp. Now in the gripping “ ’71,” he plays a British soldier stationed in Northern Ireland who is separated from his squadron amid the violent turmoil between the Catholics and the Protestants. He is shot at, wounded and forced to fight for his life at every turn. After these two movies, O’Connell could really use a starring turn in a light romantic comedy.

O’Connell is very good in “ ’71,” which marks the promising debut of director Yann Demange. The French filmmaker shoots the film with a gritty, on-the-ground realism that gives it a scary immediacy. A chase scene through the streets, alleyways and bombed-out residences in Belfast recalls the foot chases in “Point Break” and the “Bourne” movies, touchstones for hand-held action sequences. And like Kathryn Bigelow and Paul Greengrass, Demange takes political subject matter and shoots it full of adrenaline. He knows how to create tension and when to give his audience a jolt while keeping things firmly planted in a real-world hotbox.

The script by Scottish playwright Gregory Burke does an excellent job of humanizing the film’s central conflict. These are people who believe they are fighting for the right reasons, but, just below the surface, feel scared and confused and lost in their allegiances. The film doesn’t take sides, but shows how conflict stirs the pot of human emotions and how quickly things can get out of control. And it shows that in war, no one is right.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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’71

GRADE: B+

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout

Running time: 99 minutes