Dishonour Before Death
The magic and facade of words, where something can sound and appear so simple, innocuous even, yet camouflage so much, particularly blood and murder. Jingoism sounds like a child’s game, outside on a summer’s day and not the state orchestrated conditioned blood lust dehumanising experience that turns people/nations against each other. Pageantry it’s natural bedfellow struts down the street hand in blood stained hand, the deathly duo flying flags of wild passioned ignorant assertions that could result in someone’s death due to their surname. The term ‘The Troubles’ in relation to the conflict that raged in Northern Ireland from the late 60s again belittles the maelstrom that took place on all fronts, it was no game, but your surname could genuinely get you killed if you wandered into the wrong street.
It was standard practice that for many years many British troops were sent there on their first tour of duty, just like American troops in Vietnam. Many doctors were even sent there to train up on battle field/war zone wounds, all this merely a couple of hours (or minutes) away from anyone living in Ireland or the UK. This deathly pandemonium is deftly tucked away with power, insight, probity and intensity behind the title ‘‘71’ (2014) by first time feature director Yann Demange.
The overriding arch of the movie is the experience of a young East Midlands squaddie Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell turning in another stunning performance after the fantastic ‘Starred Up’) being sent over to Belfast with his Parachute Regiment, and quickly gets chaotically separated from the rest of his troops whilst out on ‘manoeuvres’ with the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). Manoeuvres being yet another word hiding an ingrained brutality, presenting a handy veneer over the bloodletting on neighbourhood streets. Hook is now on his own in an area where he believes he will be killed on sight, in dark alleyways where death begets death.
To his absolute credit Demange doesn’t present any side as holding a right or justification to their actions, reason holds no stead in these times. It’s not an overtly political piece considering the subject, and it’s all the better for it, where humanity and inhumanity battle to the fore trying to raise their flag for domain, making it a more universal survival experience. It presents a situation were various groups are acting nefariously, behind the guise of cause and authority, be it for groups labelled ‘terrorists’ or troops acting exactly the same and being labelled ‘heroes’. It does however pull no punches at all when pointing out the idiocy/lunacy of the whole situation and war in general. One of the stand out lines (of many in a great script, particularly from a young boy) is a moment where an ex British Military medic speaks about his 20+ years experience fighting for his country, it’s ‘Posh cunts, telling thick cunts, to kill poor cunts’, stripping decades of pageantry away in seconds.
Full of ever increasing tension, stylish, wonderful detailing of the era, brilliant soundtrack (by David Holmes) and a fantastic cast not only in O’Connell (who really is destined for greatness) but great support across the board in particular from a bevy of Irish actors whose faces might not be familiar to many outside Ireland, all contributing to an excellent piece of work. Whatever the politics of the conflict, the movie takes no sides and stokes the fires of humanity irrespective of the bedlam and subterfuge, it’s a working class boy trying to survive a situation he had no cause in, to get home to his younger brother.
And if you have humanity in you at all, you will want him to, for he has seen the lie that is war.
‘‘71’ is out now.