Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Charlie Murphy, Paul Anderson, Paul Popplewell
Written by: Gregory Burke
Directed by: Yann Demange
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout
Running Time: 99
Date: 02/27/2015

'71 (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Troubles Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Yann Demange directs this appealingly basic, full-blooded thriller set during the "Troubles" in Ireland in 1971. Jack O'Connell — still looking a lot like Anton Yelchin — stars as Gary Hook, a British soldier stationed in Ireland. A namby-pamby lieutenant sends his unit to Belfast, a powder keg area of simmering hatred, without riot gear. A boy steals a soldier's gun, Hook chases him, a colleague is shot, and Hook finds himself alone and abandoned, with no idea where to turn or who to trust.

I'm not a student of this place and time in history, but from what I can tell, we have the Protestants battling the Catholics, plus the IRA and various other factions, and it's rather difficult to tell who is who. But given the story, that works just fine. We latch onto Hook as our guide through this gripping tale, hiding, fighting, suffering wounds, surviving explosions, and just hoping to hang on until morning, or until he finds a familiar face. Demange brings intelligence and care to his film, providing some intense gut-punch moments. He attacks with the vigor of a Sam Fuller or a Don Siegel, rather than the usual, lazy shaky-cam we get in most action-thrillers today. Playwright Gregory Burke wrote the script.

Lionsgate released a 2015 DVD -- no Blu-ray -- which includes a commentary track by Demange, Burke, and producer Angus Lamont. There are (thankfully) optional English and Spanish subtitles. Because the picture takes place largely at night and with a lack of bold colors, the DVD transfer actually looks quite fine, with a good, strong audio track.

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