dir Yann Demange
scr Gregory Burke
prd Robin Gutch, Angus Lamont
with Jack O'Connell, Paul Anderson, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, David Wilmot, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy, Killian Scott, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann, Harry Verity, Sam Hazeldine
release UK 10.Oct.14
14/UK Film4 1h39
Behind enemy lines: O'Connell

oconnell harris reid
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
s71 Set out as one young man's experience in the early days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, this gritty, urgent film has much broader things to say about the impact violent conflict has on individuals and communities. It's a bit relentless in its approach, but it takes the audience on a provocative odyssey that sparks thought rather than trying to explain it all.

After training in Germany, Private Hook (O'Connell) is sent instead to Belfast, where the clash between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists has turned the city into a war zone. On a mission, his team is overwhelmed by residents in the street, leaving Hook alone and running for his life. His senior officer (Reid) works with British spies (Harris and Anderson) to track him down, while Hook encounters a local leader (Wilmot) and a couple (Dormer and Murphy) who help him survive. But three thugs (Scott, Keoghan and McCann) are determined to kill him.

The film is shot in a darkly unsettling way that focusses on uncertainty. No one knows who to trust, and it's clear that the people with guns and bombs don't quite know what they're doing. So anything can happen. Director Demange orchestrates several bravura sequences with harrowing long takes, all of which centre on the human cost of the violent conflict. Death is sudden and random, and always a possibility.

At the centre, O'Connell conveys Hook's internal journey: a young guy thrown into a mess he can't begin to understand. He doesn't even know how to answer when someone points a gun in his face and asks, "Protestant of Catholic?" Meanwhile, the actors all find the core of their blunt characters, offering shades of meaning behind each action. No one in this film is simplistically good or bad, and each has to make a decision that has life-or-death consequences.

The situation in Northern Ireland is one of the most complicated in the world, with political, religious and ethnic issues building over 400 years. "The Troubles" refers to nearly 30 years of violence, from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This film doesn't even try to make sense of the horrors of these decades: its goal is to highlight the ways living in conflict changes people. So the authenticity of these characters gives the film a strikingly important kick that resonates around the world even now.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence 12.Aug.14

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