An odd film in that it’s set during the height of the Troubles in Belfast in Northern Ireland, but it’s actually a completely fictional story. I’m not sure how wise it is to take artistic license with something so important and divisive in not too distant Northern Irish history. On the one hand it demonstrates the kind of scenarios and conflicts that would have been experienced at the time, and with a bit of distance so they don’t have to worry about historical accuracy with the characters and so on – on the other it could be seen as not treating events seriously enough, using it as an excuse to create a tense drama that, in the absence of a properly delivered political backdrop, could have been set in any conflict. Director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke have more or less walked their fine line successfully here, showing a sense of the conflict’s reality and the brutal horror of the violence but together with a framework for its existence, and without simply getting lost in their own dramatic attempt to keep the audience engaged.
Jack O’Connell plays the protagonist Gary – a British soldier deployed in Belfast for the first time, who ends up isolated from the rest of his unit and on the run as all hell breaks loose in the city around him and he desperately tries to reach the relative safety of his barracks. It’s well shot, there’s some real tension in there, and O’Connell passes mustard in the role although really he’s not asked to do much except run around looking scared and he has yet to impress in any role that doesn’t involve him portraying a violent psychopath, the next few leading roles he has lined up should put his acting chops to the test. The film’s major problem lies in its believability, as the story becomes increasingly difficult to buy into – in particular the moment when one of the characters, who has himself and his daughter to protect, thinks to himself ‘hmm something is happening here which we absolutely must keep a complete secret from everyone, I mean like everyone, even the people I trust most in the world, and then in a matter of hours it’ll all be over anyway. “OK love, I’m just popping out to tell the local head of the IRA about our situation. Yeah, it seems like the logical thing to do. Bye!”’ It’s pretty much downhill from there.