CRITICS TEND TO watch movies like a butcher in a petting zoo: Yes that goat is nice, but the brisket area looks a bit lean. This can be useful in a professional context, but it's also kind of no fun, and complaining about a film's average shot length will not make you a hit at most parties. So take that into account when I say that '71 is not only one of the most technically accomplished films I've ever seen, but also the only movie in recent memory that slipped past my critical filters completely.
I'm worried that if I tell you '71 is about a British solider (Jack O'Connell) in the early days of the Irish Troubles, that's going to bum you out. From an American perspective, the IRA were slavering terrorists, while British colonialism was bad but also they were the good guys in WWII, so maybe that's a wash. The reality was infinitely more complicated—and notoriously difficult to parse from an outsider perspective. What's most impressive is that '71 dives head-first into the bloody, internecine, ground-level factionalism of the Troubles without dehumanizing any of the participants or glossing over any of the brutality with veneers of patriotism or occupier's guilt.
And nestled inside that socio-political drama is a man on the run in a city that's trying to kill him. On a technical level, the film... well, it's flawless. There isn't a single wasted shot, or a scene that drags, or an angle that fails to communicate something important. The result of that artistry is a study in steadily building anxiety that's punctuated by moments of whirlwind violence. We don't go to the movies to appreciate good shot composition—we go to feel something. And if you want to feel something, '71 will stick a knife in your guts and twist.