’71: AKA Behind Enemy Lines/Saving Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down

The familiar “Behind Enemy Lines” trope is alive and well. The latest incarnation of the theme is in ’71, directed by Yann DemangeI enjoyed the film and I recommend you check it out in theaters. Was it the best film I’ve seen all year? Definitely not. It wouldn’t even rank in the top twenty if I had to rank the films I saw this year. To be fair I’ve been lucky, I’ve seen a lot of good movies this year. I struggled while watching this film. I didn’t want to just turn out another positive review. I think I need to go see an awful movie to help “cleanse” my pallet. If any of you have recommendations for awful movies I’d love to rip one apart. I’ve got a lot of pent-up vitriol and nowhere to put it. Without further ado, here is the trailer:

So there you have it. ’71 follows the classic trope of, “Soldier left behind, soldier gets rescued and perseveres.” To me it all just seems a bit stale. This go around the bad people were white guys with handlebar mustaches. Actually the good guys were white people with handlebar mustaches too. I’ve probably seen this movie about a half a dozen times. With that said, I’m holding it up to scrutiny using those movies as a template. As I recall I enjoyed “Saving Private Ryan”. It was a bit different but still it was a group of soldiers looking for one guy. I suppose the closest comparison we can draw is between ’71 and “Black Hawk Down”. In ’71 the enemies had a face, and a name; they weren’t just rowdy thugs. These weren’t just generic IRA people, these were people with back stories. Not terribly flushed out back stories, but back stories none-the-less.

I couldn’t relate to any of the characters in the film in any meaningful way. I’m ignorant on the subject of Irish Independence, which could be a contributing factor. It took me four or five clicks to actually get to the Wikipedia article I was looking for. It seems that typing IRA doesn’t get you to the modern incarnation of the movement. After doing some research the film seemed pretty accurate. A chaotic paramilitary group that operated without clear direction or leadership.

The characters weren’t developed and as one character eloquently put it, “they’re just meat”. Warm bodies that fill up a screen. The acting isn’t poor; quite the contrary. It’s the development that is lacking. The writers didn’t bother to explain basic things. Why he was in the army? Who that little boy was? Or just about anything else that I felt was pertinent to the plot line. Many times throughout the film I had questions that had no answers. With that said, Jack O’Connell, the actor playing Gary Hook did a fantastic job. I believed every emotion that he was feeling; he was quite genuine.

Enough about the lack of character development; I think you get the point. The camera work is brilliant in this film. The scene where the bar explodes was particularly jarring. ’71 does a great job of showing the human cost of the conflict l. I have trouble believing that there were burning buses and cars in the street. But hey; what do I know? I also had trouble believing that a well-trained military  would leave someone behind. It goes against the ethos we’ve all been taught. It’s lesson one, day one. You don’t leave people behind. Accidents happen but the naivety of the lieutenant seemed somewhat striking to me.

The other thing that struck me was how quick everyone in the film is to turn on everyone else. Nobody is trustworthy or reliable. It took me a while to figure out one of the last scenes in the movie. I won’t go into detail but if you have questions think back to the bar scene when he asked him what he saw. I hope that was ambiguous and cryptic enough to help you without spoiling too much.

I’m not sure how the British military works/worked. The subtle hints at cronyism and nepotism weren’t lost on me. I read an amusing adage about army life that suits the movie well, “The rich telling the stupid to shoot the poor.” seemed to fit well here.

I wanted to mention that I had a tough time understanding what some actors were saying. I found myself straining to understand the muddled words of the small boy. Other than a few vulgarities I couldn’t make out much.

The critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97%. Many of the critics had the same grievances that I did and still gave it a high score. There is at least one honest critic in the bunch from the San Francisco Chronicle. His critique is worth a read and is frankly much better than mine.

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