'71

15

When the E4 drama Skins first splattered onto our screens in 2007, no-one could have predicted how much of the fresh talent involved would move onto bigger things. At the top of that particular tree sits Dev Patel; not only did he get a global hit starring in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, he also scored a place in the ensemble cast of US TV drama The Newsroom, penned by Aaron Sorkin.

The next group tucked in just behind include Nicholas Hoult (playing the young Hank/Beast in the X-Men films) and Luke Pasqualino (most recently seen playing D'artagnan in the BBC drama The Musketeers). Bringing up the rear are Hannah Murray (a secondary character in Game of Thrones) and Kaya Scodelario, who can currently be seen in The Maze Runner.

One of the show's strongest characters was the enigmatic Cook, played by Jack O'Connell. There must have been days on shoot when other actors pitied themselves if they had to share screen time with O'Connell, who was like an acting Pac-Man devouring all those around him with his edgy performances.

Apart from a small part in the decidedly by-the-numbers 300 sequel, 300: Rise of the Empire, O'Connell has been satisfied by starring in low-budget British films, of which '71 is the latest example.

boom reviews '71
Very much a year of living dangerously.

Before even having time to acclimatise, young British soldier Gary Hook (O'Connell) is thrown right into the deep end of his first tour of Northern Ireland in 1971 by being sent out to keep the peace in one of the most troubled streets in the area.

Things soon turn ugly and a full-blown riot explodes. Hook attempts to help a fellow soldier, only to be separated and stranded on his own. Surrounded by an angry mob, Hook, in all his soldier garb, is sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb, and the situation will only get a whole lot worse if he's discovered.

boom reviews '71
When Laser Quest started to fade out, playing soldiers became all the rage once again.

After directing a number of TV shows - most notably Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Dead Set - '71 marks Yann Demange's big screen debut. And for a small budget project, he does remarkably well.

Where it probably impresses the most is in its ability to evoke a real sense of the period, in both its seventies look and feel and in the heightened sense of danger in the area. It captures the mood of impending chaos perfectly, with a tangible feeling of threat in the air, for soldiers and civilians.

It also doesn't pick sides; instead, it chooses to just throw its protagonist into a cauldron of violence and see what happens.

O'Connell, not unexpectedly, gives a sterling account of himself. The young actor has all the skills needed to portray this character's story, and he delivers in full. To be fair though, he doesn't have that much to do. Strip away the political scenario and what's left is a competent cat and mouse drama. For the majority of the film, O'Connell is running himself ragged, trying to not get himself killed. Although that's an understandable response, it would have been nice to see O'Connell push himself a bit harder than this creatively.

What it does prove however, is that he does have what it takes to compete with his Skins alumni, he just needs the right project to do the business for him. Although a bold and brave film - especially when you considering its paltry budget - '71 still won't make it the year that O'Connell reaches the next level in his career. But by all accounts, it can't be far off now.

we give this three out of five