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
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
On general release from today.