Director: Yann Demange
Writer: Gregory Burke
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris
A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971. Beaten by a mob, he gets helped by random locals while pursued by killers from both provisional IRA as well as British Army's Military Reaction Force (MRF).
So this is how it was in Northern Ireland during the civil war- Republic of Ireland, which got independence from UK, is largely Catholic. So Northern Ireland stayed with UK and a civil war brewed with the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) wanting independence from UK and unification with Republic of Ireland. The protestants in Northern Ireland didn't want anything to do with largely catholic Republic of Ireland and supported British forces to crush the rebellion. The provisional IRA in the film emerged after a split in the original IRA with the mandate to carry out violent acts. The split happened in 1969 and provisional IRA's offensive acts began in 1971, the year in which the film is set. British Army's Military Reaction Force (MRF) was set-up as a covert intelligence gathering and counter-insurgency unit of occupying British army in 1971. They worked in plain clothes using civilian vehicles equipped with pistols and machine guns. They earned infamy as legalized death squads and have been accused of colluding with illegal loyalist paramilitary forces and carrying out false flag attacks. So to sum-up, the entire situation is a clusterfuck with two factions in the IRA side and the loyalists getting the help of British Army to carry out retaliatory attacks and bombings. The protagonist is caught up in this web.
I didn't know much of the details that I described above going in apart from the fact that Ireland is a kind of unique place in the developed world where people can be still turn to violent means because of their 'effing religion. The film doesn't do any big exposition scene for a less-informed viewer to easily get a hang of the nuances. It is a good thing because I generally cringe when there is a sense that a particular scene is expository. So one needs to pay close attention, which is generally what you are supposed to do, and the film treats it viewer as an intelligent one. The official wing of the army in it plays an emasculated role since they are in over their heads with what is happening at the ground. They are getting played by both IRA as well as MRF with factionalism inside them contributing more to the confusion. Both of them want the missing soldier (Jack O'Connell) dead and the locals who try to help him also inadvertently presents him to these people over the course of the film. I had seen Adam Curtis' latest film 'Bitter Lake' recently and it also portrays a situation where British soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan are caught up in a civil war in the occupied territory. The locals who wants to kill some of their rivals will go to the gullible army and give false information that their rivals are from Al Qaeda. Same thing was also shown in Jeremy Scahill's documentary 'Dirty Wars'. The lesson is that when you are a foreign force, a civil war will just make your presence untenable like the US/NATO army found out in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Northern Irish people, the British army was as good as a foreign force and so thus the film can be seen as a very realistic depiction of such situations.
Overall it is a great watch but a minor criticism would be that they could have done away with the little back-story that they had for the protagonist involving his kid. Another film that I have seen recently set during those bad times Belfast was 'Good Vibrations', told from the point of view of locals and was also excellent. Last year was a breakout year for Jack O'Donnell with him earning plaudits for both 'Starred Up' and this one. He was also in the Angelina Jolie directed film 'Unroken, which I have no intention to wwatch basically because I share Amy Pascal's opinion about her.