A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe and increasingly wary of his own comrades, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape.
Thrilling, tense, and directed with prodigious confidence, '71 announced itself as one of the best films at this year's Berlin Film Festival. Its director, Yann Demange, wasn't well known outside the UK. That's about to change.
O'Connell impressed in last year's Festival discovery Starred Up, and went on to take the lead role in Angelina Jolie's forthcoming Unbroken. Here he shows the makings of a star, conveying both the emotion and the animal instinct of a man at the centre of a manhunt. As his British Army squad tries to rescue him, danger looms on all sides from the Irish Republican Army, the more volatile Provisional IRA, and even the Loyalist fighters.
With a mix of action-movie suspense and complex political drama worthy of Kathryn Bigelow, Demange directs '71 with a muscular, urgent style. This is a director to watch.