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Kindness in another’s trouble

10 October 2014

Stephen Brown sees a gripping film parable

THE parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what mercy consists of, and how, like the grace of God, it emanates from unexpected sources, thereby confounding our tunnel-vision understandings of what love is. Jesus tells a probably fictitious story, one containing great insight and truth, in which God is never mentioned. The same goes for the film '71  (Cert. 15), out today. There is no mistaking its biblical origins. One of the cast is even billed in the credits as "Good Samaritan".

In Belfast at the height of the Troubles in 1971, a newly trained English soldier, Gary (Jack O'Connell, right), is part of a unit set upon by Republican sympathisers in the Falls Road area. Things quickly get out of hand, the army barely managing to contain those rioting in this Roman Catholic stronghold. Gary and another private get detached from their comrades. His mate is shockingly murdered, but he, though badly beaten, is rescued by the first of many Good Samaritans in the film.

Gary escapes the mob, only to be pursued by two gunmen. After he has narrowly avoided capture, it is hard to see how this wounded and completely disorientated man can stay alive in what remains hostile territory. The film is never less than gripping. Clearly, as an audience, we are willing his survival. Yet Yann Demange, making his directorial debut, keeps us guessing right until the end.


This isn't a Bond movie, where with one bound the hero is liberated. Freedom is costly here in a city rooted in the tragic realities of communities violently distrustful of one another. These are also people who live in fear of showing mercy to perceived enemies lest it brings the threat of torture and death upon them from their own kind.

Nevertheless, one Good Samaritan after another - a streetwise boy, a father and daughter, even an IRA leader - takes great risks. Parallels with the story of Jesus abound. Equivalents of priest and Levite passing by on the other side come in the shape of Army personnel and undercover agents.

'71 turns the parable into a thriller where we can tell friends from foes by how much generosity of spirit they show. Most of all, this piece of cinematic midrash fills gaps in the biblical account by suggesting these Samaritans don't appear on the scene pre-packed with goodness. Rather, there is a wideness in God's mercy which astonishes them as they move from hostility to hospitality.

On general release from today.

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