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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

The O’Bourne Identity

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday April 16, 03:20 pm
Northern Ireland’s past problems yield a fine thriller

 71

Roxy

4/5

The Troubles — as the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, which ran from the late 1960s to just before the turn of the new millennium, is known — is a problematic page in the history of Great Britain. Both sides behaved atrociously and were equally quick to abandon the moral high ground to stick it to their rivals.

71 does a fantastic job of depicting the muddy waters in which Catholic nationalists, Protestant loyalists, the British Army and counterinsurgency units mixed it up at the height of the Troubles. Unholy alliances and internal divisions were a daily occurrence, and luck played a role larger than those involved would have liked.

The film is successful because it focuses on one man — Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), an inexperienced British soldier with no agenda other than staying alive. Hook and his squad are sent to Belfast to support the local police force in their efforts to quash Catholic rebels, and hopefully win hearts and minds. Instead, excessive force used by the local cops triggers a bout of civil unrest, which turns violent in a matter of minutes.

The military is overpowered by the angry mob and inadvertently leaves an unconscious Hook behind. Once he wakes up, Hook has to navigate the neighbourhood’s tricky allegiances and reach a safe zone — not easy given that the IRA is out to get him, and the utterly corrupt undercover unit would be okay with this. Even within his enemies there are nuances to consider: the nationalists’ leadership acts strategically, while the youth branch is more radicalized and impulsive.

71 is smart enough to give Hook some allies in his quest, innocent people who haven’t lost their humanity and are the conflict’s true victims. It’s also unbearably tense: double-crossing is the norm, nobody gets the benefit of doubt and Hook’s margin for error is paper-thin.

Director Yann Demange has obviously been influenced by Paul Greengrass; the handheld camera and grainy, faded footage serve the story well. Demange is also a very economical director, allowing the audience to put the pieces together for themselves. (If ’71 was an American movie, it would have a 10-minute tutorial in the beginning and several expository monologues along the way.)

Even so, the movie wouldn’t work if O’Connell wasn’t so compelling. The up-and-comer’s recent roles (Unbreakable, the little-seen Starred Up) have revealed a Steve McQueen-esque quality to his work, a rarity among modern leading men.

A minor issue that might distract audiences is the very thick Irish accent on display across the board. Memo to distributors: even if the movie is in English, at times subtitles would be appreciated. See Snatch, In Bruges, The Guard, Angela’s Ashes

 

MONKEY KINGDOM

Cineplex

2.5/5

The Disneynature series has faced criticism over the years due to the ways it portrays the animal kingdom. The franchise’s calling card — an unabashed anthropomorphizing of the creatures — feels odd, and concepts like sex and death are minimized or sugar-coated to a fault.

In fairnes to Disney, the target audience of these documentaries is children, who may not be equipped to handle nature in its rawest form.

The subjects of Monkey Kingdom are a group of Sri Lanka macaques living in a tree. The tribe’s social order is severely enforced: the alpha and other one-percenters sit at the top (where the best fruit hangs), while lesser monkeys must find a spot below. The film’s nominal lead, a spirited female known as Maya, lives at the base of the tree and struggles to find food.

In spite of her lowly status, Maya is resourceful, and her “street smarts” pay off when she becomes a mother and a rival gang of macaques takes over their home. In a franchise first, the animals are pushed into urbanized areas in order to survive. While it’s cute to watch monkeys shoplifting food from local businesses, it’s impossible not to think about sprawling cities cutting into their habitat.

The scope of Monkey Kingdom is smaller than in previous Disneynature efforts, but the quality of the material is top notch. The camera work is excellent. The storyline is less forced than usual and the editing helps the film breeze along, with the assistance of a tongue-in-cheek soundtrack.

Compared to Samuel L. Jackson in African Cats and Tim Allen in Chimpanzee, Tina Fey comes up short in the narration department. Outside a few moments of levity and dry wit, Fey sounds flat — which is surprising, considering how good she was as the beleaguered mother in the dubbed version of Ponyo.

 

SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION

Broadway

3/5

Unlike, say, James Franco, Ethan Hawke has managed to branch out quietly and successfully. Hawke has four Academy Award nominations (two as scriptwriter) to his credit, along with two novels and a substantial presence in theatre, where he mostly does Shakespeare.

Now, he’s chosen an incredibly low-key subject for his debut as documentary filmmaker. In Seymour: An Introduction, the man in question is a piano genius who consciously decided to step away from the spotlight nearly 40 years ago.

Turned off by the business side of his art, Seymour Bernstein pursued professional satisfaction in honing his skills and passing along his accumulated knowledge. He has wisdom in spades, which extends to other disciplines; for example, his relationship with Hawke started when he helped the actor keep his anxiety in check on stage.

Bernstein’s take on fame is unique: If success doesn’t come from perfecting your craft, it’s hollow and fleeting. The man’s so likeable that his advice doesn’t sound patronizing — especially after we hear him playing the piano. By visiting his tiny apartment and witnessing his solitude, we learn that Bernstein’s life is almost monastic, and that the cost of artistic integrity is high.

Seymour: An Introduction is a didactic experience, but it’s too unassuming for its own good. At times it comes close to becoming memorable, like when a sensitive Bernstein reminisces about playing for the troops during the Korean War. More moments like that would have turned a good film into an excellent one.

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