Thursday, 16 October 2014
'71 trades in danger. It takes the political and ideological framework of The Troubles and uses them to confuse and catalyse a midnight expedition movie. After a police raid becomes an excuse to beat up cowering Catholic mothers, a young Private is separated from his unit by a riot. In terms of genre, '71 immediately recalls The Warriors or John Carpenter's Escape From New York, but this isn't just instant hostility from a city full of droogs. By dint of birth anyone the lost Private meets could be help or hindrance. Likewise, the political perspective doesn't, to this outsider at least, feel shortchanged.
Screenwriter Gregory Burke layers characters with anxiety, creating a sense that no-one in '71 is operating moment-to-moment. Instead everyone is wracked with fear, acting out the labels they've been designated. '71 portrays ethno-nationalist conflict as a compulsion that grips the young and wearies the old, a fever state that various levels of establishment use to get their way. '71 takes a recent and underreported conflict and uses it to complicate every level of plotting until the film seethes with total menace. The people the Private meets have interior and exterior objectives, often operating in direct opposition.
The most terrifying group in play though are the Military Reaction Force, a four-man black-ops squad that rolls around Belfast in a clapped-out old banger. The MRF are pure venom. They aren't muscled specimens dressed like film stars, they look supernatural. Razor thin pub fighters dressed like childhood photos of your mad uncle. These guys look like they survive on cigarettes and spirits. Everything in Yann Demange's mise en scene suggesting that they are completely empty, both physically and emotionally.
The MRF aren't there to prop up any local agenda, instead they sow chaos and perpetuate conflict. I mentioned Escape From New York earlier, the MRF's presence here would be the equivalent of having Snake Plissken tailed by a team of CIA hitmen that make counter-productive deals with every side and casually chat about the necessity of rubbing out allies. They're aliens beamed in from the gamesmanship dimension, utterly amoral and working for someone you've never even heard of.