“We look after our own in the army, Cook.”
When private Gary Cook is deserted behind enemy lines by his troop, amidst the chaos of a full-blown riot, it sets up the kind of scenario you’d expect Hollywood to have air dropped Nicholas Cage into. “One man’s mission impossible… Against all odds, he’s going home…”
Mercifully, he isn’t and it’s not. This is ’71, an ultra gritty tale of a soldier trying to escape with his life, scared witless by the pitiful cauldron of hate and madness that was 1970s Northern Ireland.
There are no heroes here and no sides taken, just pawns caught up in the mess, either indoctrinated by belief systems or by ‘the system’ itself. It’s not as simple as them against us for Cook, if it was, perhaps he’d have a fair chance; instead, the confusion of subterfuge on both sides leaves us asking, “who can you trust?” and more importantly, “what are their underlying motives?”
It’s a minefield for sure and a pretty tense one at that; gripping from start to finish, something director Yann Demange deserves big credit for, ratcheting up the suspense throughout.
Whilst Cook’s part as the lone, would-be escapee is down-played by the director a little, in favour of those plotting and conniving around him, his sense of fear and bewilderment is palpable and conveyed convincingly. A naive, reluctant soldier, right in the thick of it. A pawn in the game, if ever there was one.
A very minor criticism; the ending. It feels like a bit of an afterthought. Without giving anything away, you can see the point that the director is trying to make, but that point is in itself a big topic, deserving I felt of further expansion.
Don’t let that detract though from what is a really good film.
“They don’t care about you. To them, you’re a piece of meat. You want to know what the army is? It’s posh cunts, ordering thick cunts to kill poor cunts…”
Probably a fair summation of the brass tacks of this war and every war before and since.