Sunday, March 15, 2015
A gory chase movie, '71 is exciting in a harsh way, but not really entertaining. Furthermore, there is something meretricious about using "the Troubles" in Belfast as an excuse for violent thriller -- equally puzzling is the timing of the film's release: is this brutal film about Protestant and Catholic fighting in Northern Ireland being distributed now (March 2015) as a nod to St. Patrick's Day? '71 is singleminded and relentless -- a young British soldier from Derbyshire is separated from his platoon during some streetfighting in Belfast. He ends up wounded and hiding in a jakes, an outhouse-style privy, that, fortunately, is not much utilized. When night falls, the soldier creeps out onto the dark, medieval streets of Belfast, a sort of labyrinth filled with paramilitary death squads that are hunting one another up and down narrow, cobbled alleyways luridly lit by burning cars. The movie is similar to John Ford's The Informer or Carol Reed's Odd Man Out, a wounded man, losing blood, staggers around from place to place in the chaos of an internecine war. This kind of film is usually designed as a double chase -- that is, the bad guys are after the hero and, as a result of a misunderstanding, the cops (or the good guys) are also gunning for him. '71 innovates on this plot, perfected by Hitchcock, by contriving a chase involving, at least, five different factions -- they are (1) Unionist insurgents who are building (ineptly) bombs (2) the wounded man's platoon (3) an undercover special forces unit of the British army that is colluding with the Unionist terrorists (4) an ultra-violent cadre of the IRA and (5) a less violent group of IRA gunmen who are, also, apparently cooperating with the undercover Brit paramilitary death squad. All of these five factions are looking for our hero and, in fact, four of the five groups want him dead. Although the plot is as schematic, in some ways, as a roadrunner cartoon, it is also needlessly complicated and confusing. The film is full of shootings and bombings and there is a protracted scene of amateur surgery that has the effect of implausibly reviving the hero so that he can wander around the night some more and lose more blood until the violent climax -- the amateur surgery scene is shot in close-up and very unpleasant, akin to a similar sequence in a film that '71 resembles, Black Hawk Down. The best part of the movie is the first half-hour -- there is a remarkable sequence involving a foul-mouthed Unionist waif that almost redeems the picture, but, unfortunately, the poor lad gets both of his arms blown off in an explosion and is on-screen for too short of a time to involve the audience --the scenes with the boy are vivid and fine, but they are really just a tease for a movie that we don't get to see. Much of the film takes place in and around a singularly nasty set of flats, a combination of a tenement and a car park, it seems, all exposed balconies and corridors above ugly concrete and metal stairwells and the picture, like this setting, is completely ugly, shot in the most utilitarian manner possible -- all handheld, jerky camera, long tracking shots (about half the movie shows the hero simply staggering from one dark corner to another) and sweaty close-ups. Like the four-hour Che, the movie is made in a style that seems to be post-photographic, post film-making --it's as if the picture was shot on a cell-phone and intended to be screened on a cell-phone as well.