Directed By: Yann Demange

Starring: Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Charlie Murphy, Paul Anderson, and Paul Popplewell

I must admit that I've been a bit of a pessimist when it comes to the cinematic landscape as of late.  In the interest of full disclosure, there's nothing that's quite motivating me to make my way to my local theater.  The next movie on my radar is Avengers: Age of Ultron, which will not arrive until May.  While many would argue that this predisposes me to being a movie cynic instead of a legitimate critic, I beg to differ.  At times like this, I'm open to surprise as hidden indie gems fill the void.  During these times, I have more time to appreciate gems like this month’s British historical action film '71.

It's 1971, and Northern Ireland is being torn asunder by The Troubles.  A group of British soldiers are sent to Belfast to help keep the peace.  They're assigned to Divis Street where Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists reside in what can best be described as the opposite of harmony.  On their first day, the troops find a riotous mob of Catholics that brutalize them despite their artillery.  Perplexingly outmatched and hesitant to pull the trigger on residents, the troops opt to turn tail and flee the neighborhood.  The mob, however, doesn’t give a damn and wants blood.

When a child steals one of their guns during this fateful altercation, two of the soldiers chase after him as the other soldiers retreat.  Abandoned and left to the violent mob, one of the soldiers is killed.  The other, a private by the name of Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell), finds himself in a rather tough predicament.  He manages to escape the mob but has nowhere to go and is stuck in a hellish Belfast.  With young IRA member James Quinn (Killian Scott) hunting him down, this lost soldier ends up running for his life all night long.  Luckily for Hook, there are still plenty of good Samaritans in this tumultuous city, and Captain Sandy Browning (Sean Harris) and his men are looking for the lost private.

'71 is undoubtedly one of those hidden gems to which I was referring in my intro.  Tremendously gripping, relentlessly gut-wrenching, and thoroughly entertaining, director Yann Demange's indie action flick stands tall amongst the releases so far this year.  The one word that best describes '71 is intense.  You can see this film's intensity in the elaborate chase sequences that gradually ratchet up the suspense.  You can hear it thunderously pulsating in the bass-pumping score akin to a furiously beating heart.  You can feel it in the passion, conviction, and desperation these talented actors all put on the line as their characters.  '71 is an outstanding piece of cinema and one not to miss.

Allegiance is also critical to '71 as corruption and disloyalty abound.  It's fascinating to watch discord within both the military and the IRA as The Troubles brew in Belfast.  It all makes this grim world created by Demange that much colder and darker.  What's impressive about this is that Demange is giving equal attention to both sides and showcasing each group’s infighting in equally negative lights.  There's a surprisingly clear objectivity even with the film's protagonist being squarely on one side of the aisle.  That's one tough act to pull off, and I have to commend Demange for this.

The cast doesn't miss a beat.  For his part as Gary Hook, Jack O'Connell gives one hell of a performance that showcases his ability to put it all on screen emotionally.  Terror and desperation are the defining attributes of his impassioned performance as this British soldier.  We also have Sean Harris as Captain Sandy Browning.  As the angry captain, he delivers a tough, gritty performance.  As usual, The Borgias star offers one slippery character.  Finally, we have Killian Scott as James Quinn.  There's a lot of anger in Quinn's heart, and this manifests itself in Scott's focused performance time and time again.

I've got nothing but love for '71.  This gripping action film will captivate just about any moviegoer.  Bleak, intense, and brutal, this thrilling flick is my new favorite indie.  '71 gets a sober rating.  Don't miss this one.