In '71, Yann Demange tints the midnight alleys of Belfast like an Irish flag dragged through the mud: black skies, sickly green lamps, and the orange flames of torched cars. It's 1971, the height of the Troubles, and the town is hushed by a curfew yet roiling with fractious anger. The Protestants hate the Catholics, the zealots loathe the moderates, and even the British military shipped over to enforce the quiet festers with double-dealers.
The overall effect feels like a zombie flick -- anyone daring the streets is a threat. Somehow, stranded English soldier Gary (Jack O'Connell) must limp back to his barracks before any puffed-up punks with a gun blow his head off to make a point. As he did playing Louis Zamperini, O'Connell suffers more than he speaks. He's again tasked with silently creating a real character from a script that uses him as a symbol. In Unbroken, his blackened eyes and busted lips signified strength. Here, he's just a bewildered pawn who hasn't got a clue who the players are and why they want him dead. '71 shuns even a drop of Irish cinema's mordant humor. The closest this excellent, tensely controlled thriller gets to a joke is the bitter irony that the Irish are better at killing each other than murdering Gary — even the ones fighting on the same side.