The war film genre has become so common and so violent in the last few decades that nothing can really surprise you anymore. What was once one of the most harrowing sequences in cinematic history with the Invasion of Normandy sequence in Saving Private Ryan probably won’t have as much effect on younger generations who are shown so much violence in films nowadays. So it is nice to see some genuinely interesting cinematic choices being taken during the course of a war film, which is the case with the acclaimed 2015 film ’71. While ’71 ultimately settles into your standard war film, there are enough instances of genuine cinematic surprises to make it stand out.
’71 follows a young British man on his first mission in the army. He is sent into Northern Ireland during the civil conflict that consumed the Irish continent for much of the late 20th century. While trying to retrieve a gun that a fellow soldier dropped he is separated from his unit and must survive in a country that he does not know filled with humans he doesn’t know he can trust.
Director Yann Demange clearly has a future as a filmmaker. While the story he chooses to adapt to the screen isn’t particularly interesting when compared to many other war stories that have been adapted to the screen, he brings enough visual energy to the film to make it stand out. Whether it is a chase scene through narrow streets that combines sound and film editing in a way you haven’t experienced before or the use of sound and darkness to portray the aftereffects of an explosion, there are some really great sequences in this film that are up there with any put on film so far this year.
Ultimately though I don’t care about the characters of this film enough to truly have this film make a lasting impact on me. Most of the characters are either paper-thin or don’t have enough screen time (the film has a vignette style of storytelling to it that is quite similar to that of Spielberg’s War Horse) to remember at all. Rising star Jack O’Connell even struggles to make you care about the main character of the film.
’72 features some very strongly directed sequences, but that isn’t enough to make it standout from an era in which all war films ultimately end up as the same violent exercise in growing from a boy into a man.