by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 7, 2015


"The Troubles" between Belfast's Protestants and Catholics are seen through one British soldier's eyes in French director Yann Demange's terrifyingly taut thriller "'71."

Young British soldier and single dad Gary Hook's (intense Jack O'Connell) unit is deployed to Ireland, where they're stationed in a spartan school-cum-barracks and berated by their lieutenant: "Hands off cocks and pull up socks."

Their brief training includes "the Protestant loyalists, orange on the map, live in the east and are friendly; in the west, the nationalist Catholics are green and hostile."

The Independence Day fireworks blasting outside my Chicago window provided an appropriately percussive soundtrack to underscore what awaited the troops: Children throwing balloons of piss and poop, cars and busses burning on the residential streets, women pounding trash cans lids on the cement to alert their men. Everybody is yelling "shite," plus drinking and smoking.

Hook is lost and abandoned during this 1971 street riot, and is injured during a pub bomb blast. Dazed and disoriented, he can't trust any civilians, young or old, or the local constabulary (who have authority over the military), or anybody else in this horrible game of hide-and-seek (and the matching mutton chop sideburns, greasy hair and leather jackets make identifying the players even more difficult).

A former army medic dad and his daughter take pity on the passed-out Hook, and fireman's carry him to their humble flat to perform some grisly, un-medicated stomach suturing.

"Not going to lie to you," Dad says. "It's going to hurt like fuck." He berates the military during his ad hoc surgery, saying "they treat you like a piece of meat."

The DVD offers audio commentary, and the officer at the end offers a tremendous understatement for Hook's ordeal. He simply calls the 24 hours of horror "a confused situation." The film offers an at-the-time unforgettable, now forgotten, slice of recent history.






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Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com