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Belfast Thriller '71' Combines Action And Emotional Authenticity

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Actor Jack O'Connell is one of Britain's rising stars. He starred in "Unbroken" and film critic Kenneth Turan says he's even better in the new film "71."

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "71" combines physical action and emotional authenticity with so much tension that you may find yourself forgetting to take a breath. It's a thriller whose plot couldn't be more straight ahead - a British soldier, played by Jack O'Connell, is caught behind enemy lines and attempts to make it back to safety alive. But this is not any war. This is, as the title indicates, Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971. It was a year when the Troubles, the bitter conflict between the Catholic IRA and the Protestant loyalists, turned violent. Young and naive British soldiers like O'Connell's Gary Hook found themselves caught in the middle. "71" smartly begins not in Belfast, but with a warm scene between Hook and an adoring younger brother being raised in an orphanage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "71")

JACK O'CONNELL: (As Gary Hook) I don't want you worried about me, OK? I'll be fine, I promise you. Now come on, eat up. I ain't even leaving the country, so you got nothing to worry about.

TURAN: The intimacy of this scene works beautifully, increasing how much we care about Hook once he's in danger of losing his life. That danger arises after a young lieutenant, played by Sam Reid, underestimates the nastiness of the neighborhood his men are about to enter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "71")

SAM REID: (As Lieutenant Armitage) I want beret, sergeant, no riot gear.

O'CONNELL: (As Gary Hook) Are you sure, sir?

REID: (As Lieutenant Armitage) We need to go out there and reassure people. We're here to protect them. We need to look them in the eye and tell them that. Carry on.

TURAN: "71" rings a complex yet completely convincing series of changes out of its basic situation. Hook tries desperately to navigate a fractured sinister city he does not know as an ever-widening group of people want him dead. The film places us in the center of this chaotic nightmare, forces us to feel what Hook is feeling, not at a remove, but just as he's experiencing it. Nothing is extraneous; everything enhances the tension until the proceedings become, in the best possible sense, almost unbearable to watch.

WERTHEIMER: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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