Odd Man Out

This 1947 British classic was directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) and starred James Mason (the Desert Rats, 1953). The story is based on the book by F.L. Green. The movie is about the impact on the lives of all those around Johnny McQueen (Mason). The film is set in a Northern Irish city, pick one of the two…and revolves around McQueen as he tries to survive a botched raid. The movie does not explicitly name any organisation just the “Organisation” . McQueen is a leading figure in the Organisation and having been lying low for about six months following his prison escape he has been ordered to execute a raid to raise funds. The film is set against the background of post-war Britain.

The remains of the war are all around and rationing is still in place. The scene is dark and broody, the movie has a classic British Noir feel. The shadows are there and contain menace. Is his heart in it? From what we can gather, he is a changed man since his time in prison, so much so that one of his team asks if he should be on the raid. We learn that McQueen is a person of some worth in Republican circles. The raid fails. McQueen injured and already on the run, must find safety on the streets of the city. As he scrambles for help he must hide in those corners, the snug of a crowded bar, air-shelter, where ever he can.   All the time there is one person looking to help him, Kathleen ( Kathleen Ryan, Captain Boycott, 1947) the woman in whose house he has been hiding. She has fallen in love with him and will go to any lengths to protect him.

This is a classic crime thriller, given the republican/political edge. What is certainly noteworthy is the attention to detail employed by Reed. He manages to side step the larger political issue to concentrate on the person aspects of the situation, whether it be through the dynamic with McQueen and his gang members, the police, the women or even Fr. Tom (W.G. Fay, London Town, 1946). The hunt builds to the violent climax. All the time during the hunt we are conflicted, however abhorrent his background, we are constantly drawn to McQueen and his plight, will he escape, will he survive? What makes this film is the characterisation, Mason is supported by what was largely the members of the Abbey Theatre, the Irish National Theatre, and before you say “so what” we need to remember the Abbey provided such cast members as Cyril Cusack who played gang member Pat and Dan O’Herlihy (Fail Safe, 1964) being fellow gang member “Nolan”. Other cast members included legendary William Hartnell who went on to be the first to play the historic role of The Doctor in Dr. Who ©

We follow McQueen has he slowly and painfully descends to the final showdown with the police. Can a good man do evil, what drives him, can an evil man do good?


This movie tells the story of a young British soldier  accidentally separated from his squad and forced to try and find his way back to barracks. First time director Yann Demange  manages to capture a certain moment in the earl'71ier years of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular.

A friend of mine asked what all the fuss was about with “Twelve Years a Slave” in America, I mentioned the historical nerves that it touched and mentioned how we tend to look at works about Northern Ireland in a similar fashion, with a very critical eye. This is true for “’71” also, would it be an overly simplified piece of almost offensive rubbish, or be able to stand on its own. It did, it worked.

That said, could this movie have been made 10 or 15 years ago, possibly not. Wounds, if they can, need time to recover. This movie touches on a number of the historical elements which might be overlooked by some.  The  movie works by deliberately not looking at the bigger picture of the politics of Northern Ireland, instead it pieces together a montage of events all linked to the young squaddie trying to get out of a situation alive.

Fresh out of training private  Garry Hook, along with his squad, is posted to Belfast. We see O’Connell’s character finishing his training, say farewell to his son and ending up on a cot in a disused hall in an old school, somewhere in Belfast. We see from the time with his son that, he’s an ordinary father who loves his son and gives the impression he just wants to get on with life.  The “elephant in the room” here is O’Connell’s performance in “Starred Up” (2013) where he played the part of a young offender, who because of his violent nature was starred up to the adult prison, where he fights to fit in, overcome his own flaws and even meet up with and reconcile with his inmate father. O’Connell’s character showed a potentially decent person trying to come to terms with his way of life and the inherent violence it brings. While in ’71 we see what is basically an ordinary guy dealing with immeasurable violence as well as charity.

On the first full day in Belfast the  squad is tasked to provide security cover to the RUC while they raid a group of houses on a street. Prior to setting out, their equally inexperienced lieutenant (Sam Reid, Anonymous , 2011) orders Berets only, because they are trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals. The squad stand the line protecting the perimeter of the police operation, however the situation quickly descends, the platoon is overwhelmed by the crowd , a soldier is injured and in the confusion his weapon is stolen, private Hook and another are sent to retrieve the rifle but in doing so are set upon by the locals. One of the local women manages to get the gang off them, only to have a member of the provisional IRA shoot the other soldier and after a chase, fail to shoot Hook.

In the chase that follows we come across Captain  sandy Browning (Sean Harris, Harry Brown, 2009) and his men.  Together they make-up an undercover team working behind the scenes with both loyalist and republican terrorists. O’Connell manages to escape the young republicans who despite orders from the “Old-guard” not to kill the soldier, continue on their search for him. Meanwhile he is found by a young loyalist boy (Cory McKinley), whose father was killed and whose uncle is  a serving senior loyalist volunteer. While in the pub where they are based events unfurl and set private Hook is once again on the run, this time he is rescued by republicans. Towards the end of the night we are faced with the regular and undercover army looking for Hook, and competing elements of the IRA also searching for him.

The movie works best for those who have some background knowledge of The Troubles, the dust-bin protests, the double dealing, the undercover squads, the rules and struggles with in the paramilitary groups and how the ordinary person is impacted.  Two of the younger IRA volunteers Martin McCann (Killing Bono, 2011), and Barry Keoghan (Love/Hate, 2013) came to attention not least of all because of their  parts which showed how people are brought in to causes and essentially be the foot-soldiers of higher-ups who are intent on keeping a distance.

There are a number of twists along the way in this movie, seen from the view of history they walk. Overall this movie captures an event and all it entails without sending any particular political judgement. If there is a judgement it is on the situation in its entirety and how ordinary people from all lives are caught up in events. Just who can be trusted? People turn against their own people for various reasons, not least their own self-protection. Overall an excellent movie which flows well and produces exactly the performances needed by all the cast.  This is one of those films that will not hurt the career of anybody involved.

Rating 8/10 –