Director: Yann Demange.
Starring: Jack O'Connell (Gary Hook), Jack Lowden (Thommo), Paul Popplewell (Training Corporal), Adam Nagaitis (Jimmy), Joshua Hill (Carl), Ben Williams-Lee (Recruit Soldier), Jonah Russell (Barracks Officer), Harry Verity (Darren), Peter McNeil O'Connor (Warden), Babou Ceesay (Coporal), Sam Reid (Lt. Armitage), James McArdle (Sergeant), Sam Hazeldine (C.O.), Sean Harris (Captain Sandy Browning), Paul Anderson (Sergeant Leslie Lewis).
British soldier sent on duty to Belfast, Northern Ireland
Spoiler Warning: curse words spelled out.
Gary Hook has joined the British army and he's in basic training now.
One early morning the men are told: "Because of the deteriorating security situation in Belfast, your regiment is now being deployed there on an emergency basis. Any questions?" Belfast is in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom. "You are not leaving this country."
Gary takes a bus to go see his little brother in an orphanage. He takes his brother to lunch. The brother is sad and Gary tells him that he doesn't want him to be worrying about big brother. He promises that he will be fine. Gary says: "I'm not even leaving the country." After lunch the two brothers knock around playing with a soccer ball. He gets his brother back to the orphanage late and the door man is rather irritated at Gary.
Gary heads out on a ship to get to Belfast. Then the soldier are transported by trucks to their barracks. The barracks is really bleak. It's a large and long building with just cots for beds. The guys are disappointed with the lodgings. The sergeant tells the fellows not to worry because they will only be staying here till one of the Paddies shoots them.
Lt. Armitage, their platoon commander, comes to greet the soldiers.
Gary finds it hard to sleep at night. He walks out of the barracks for some fresh air. The sergeant is out there smoking a cigarette and he gives a cigarette to Gary. Three armed men in civilian clothes walk by them. Gary asks who are those guys? Those fellows are MRF, undercover guys. [MRF = Military Reaction Force.] Sarge says they have nothing to do with us.
The new soldiers are shown a map of Belfast. The city can be divided between the Protestant loyalist east colored on the map in orange, which is friendly, and the Catholic nationalist west in green, which is hostile. Both communities have paramilitary factions just itching to get at the other side. And within the Republican movement, there is a split between the older, official I.R.A. elements and the younger, more radical, street-fighting Provisionals. Catholics and Protestants are divided by the Falls Road. The soldiers can use the Divis Flats at the top of the Falls Road as an orientation point, but they are not to enter the Divis Flats. It's a very dangerous I.R.A. stronghold.
The next day the guys go out on a mission. They are to assist the RUC [the Royal Ulster Constabulary] in conducting house searches in the Catholic community. In the Catholic area the guys see burning vehicles along some of the streets. There are no street signs. Getting out of the trucks the men are pelted by balloons filled with piss. Three kids are doing the throwing. They tell the Brits to get out of here. They also call them chickens and much nastier things. When the RUC arrive, the boys take off out of fear of the police. The police vehicles will lead the way and the soldiers follow behind them..
When the police and soldiers arrive on the target street, the women start banging their trash can lids on the sidewalks to warn everyone that the police are coming. The soldiers are told to cordon off the houses on both sides of the street. Gary looks a bit bewildered by all this.
The police go into the apartments and ask a tenant: "Where are the fucking guns, you Fenian bitch?" And now the people of the neighborhood come out to hassle and taunt the British soldiers. The soldiers have the task of keeping the people back. The people curse at the soldiers. The crowd really gets riled up when they see a policeman just bashing a tenant with his baton over and over. Gary is told to go fetch the lieutenant. He is upset when he sees the police hitting the tenants and also kicking them when they are down on the floor. The crowd starts getting out of hand and a soldier fires his automatic weapon into the air. That scares the crowd back for fear of being shot. Now the people start throwing stones at the police and soldiers. A small boy grabs an automatic weapon that was set down. A sergeant tells a soldier to get that gun back.
The soldier starts chasing after the boy, but parts of the crowd start chasing after the soldier. The soldier grabs the rifle, but he now is knocked down by several men. Gary tries to help his buddy out, but he too is overwhelmed.
The soldiers have had enough. The order is to retreat and they all hop on the truck. They leave behind Gary and his buddy. A Catholic mother starts demanding that her neighbors get off the two soldiers. She says they should be ashamed of themselves for acting like animals. As she is busy backing up the men and boys, a young Provisional comes right over to Gary's buddy and shoots him in the head. Gary keeps calling to Thommo to see if he is still alive. Now, the assassin is urged to shoot the other soldier, Gary. Gary just takes off in a flash and the Provisionals chase him. Gary runs and keeps running. The Provisionals keep shooting at him, but they don't hit him.
Gary picks up a piece of pipe and knocks the assassin down as he passes by Gary in his hiding place, but the assassin shoots now from his prone position. Gary runs right into a very young Provisional boy, but the boy can't bring himself to kill Gary. The Provisionals now lose Gary. Luckily for him, Gary had to run a lot in basic training. Gary hides in an outside toilet room. He is really breathing hard. He sobs a little.
The Provisionals meet on the street and are going to get into the car they have. An older man, an I.R.A. man, comes up and really starts balling out the Provisional leader, Quinn. The older fellow says there's going to be Brits crawling all over here, kicking in doors. He grabs Sean, and pushes him forward with him and telling him to get away from here.
The rest of the guys go looking for the Brit.
Sean goes home. He lives with his parents and his younger sister.
The MRF in Belfast act like hired killers and often would kill civilians who got in their way. The three man MRF team has their own office. The leader now hears that the soldiers left two of their own back in the Catholic section and the soldiers are now going out looking for them. Soldiers in a small truck find the body of the dead soldier still laying on the sidewalk. They pick the body up.
In the dark, Gary finally abandons his hiding place, but now he is exposed to being killed by the Provisionals. Gary suddenly hears a lot of commotion and sees two Molotov cocktails exploding on the street ahead of him. He pulls himself onto a side street, as he sees and hears a whole bunch of fellows running for their lives down the streets. A boy runs down the street where Gary is. Gary grabs him and tells him to please not tell on him. The boy sees that Gary is a Brit soldier. He tells the soldier to follow him because he'll take him back to his barracks. So Gary follows him. The boy asks Gary his name and then his religion. Gary plays dumb and says he doesn't know. The boy says that he is going to join the Protestant Ulster Rifles.
They come to a check point. Gary is nervous and hangs back. The boy says don't worry because these guys are on their side. The guys call the boy Wee Man. When they ask him about Gary, he tells the men to mind their own business. He acts like a real tough guy, and maybe he is, relatively speaking. He got the guards at the gates to leave them alone.
Wee Man takes Gary into a pub. In the back room are some men preparing a bomb. MRF men are in amongst them. One of them says that they took this off the IRA because they were going to use it on them (the Protestants). He says that they are to take the bomb to Fenins' nest on the Ormeau Road. Gary follows Wee Man who goes to find his uncle. He opens the back room door and his uncle tells him to get out of here. A little later the uncle comes out. He is irritated and asks didn't he tell Wee Man not to bring strangers around the pub? The boy says this one's a soldier. Oh, then that's a different story. He tells Gary to go and wait in the pub. He then tells Wee Man: well done.
Uncle goes back into the room and tells the MRF bomb specialist that it's one of his men (a British soldier). Obviously, the MRF are working hand in hand with the Protestant extremists. The MRF man goes to talk to Gary. He demands to know what the soldier saw in the room. Gary says he didn't see anything. The MRF fellow asks who is the soldier's commander? Armitage. The MRF fellow asks: "What, and he left you behind?" Yes. The MRF guys now tells Gary not to worry, because he's safe in here.
Now this very same MRF man walks over to the car where the leader and another MRF man are standing by. The bomb specialist tells the leader that here is the dog tag for the soldier that went missing. The leader tells the man to go back inside the pub and bring the soldier out.
The Protestants in the back room now have to pack the bomb up. One of the two guys almost drops the bomb, much to the irritation of the other fellow. Gary steps out of the pub for some fresh air. Wee Man asks him what is he doing? Just then the bomb in the pub explodes. Gary is blown down to the ground. The pub is a mess and is burning. A little later Gary gets up. He goes to see if he can rescue the boy. He finds him and picks him up. Wee Man still breathes. A woman takes Wee Man from him and throws him into the back seat of a car, which then takes off.
Gary starts running down the street. His hearing has been affected and his right side hurts him. The MRF leader worries about Gary still being alive, but the bomb specialist says there's no way the soldier could have survived the bomb.
Gary slumps down against a wall. There he is found by an older man and his grown daughter. The daughter tells dad to leave him alone, they don't know the guy. Father decides to take a big risk and take the stranger to his apartment. Dad puts the lad into his daughter's bedroom. The daughter suddenly realizes that the fellow is a soldier, and tells her father that they can 't help this man, but dad says they have to.
Quinn comes to the IRA pub and he wants to tell off the IRA man who balled him out, because now the soldier has disappeared. Quinn also says that the IRA blew up a pub on the Shankill. The older man says they didn't do that bombing. Quinn doesn't believe him, and he's more determined than every to get that soldier.
Now dad and daughter Brigid have to be surgeons. Gary screams out in pain. They give him a rolled up cloth to bite on. The father has to sew up Gary's side wound.
The MRF people are hoping that Gary is dead. The leader says they have to find out if Gary is definitely dead. Armitage and his black sergeant come in to see the MRF leader. The sergeant wants to know why the MRF men are not searching for the soldier? The leader fortifies himself with false righteous indignation and reminds both soldiers that he is the superior officer here. That shuts up Armitage and the sergeant. The leader says it was Armitage's mistake, not his, and Armitage has to take the responsibility for finding Private Hook. Armitage says that he's asking the leader for his help. The guy is not going to help them. He says off you go.
Brigid asks if they should call Quinn to handle the soldier. Instead, her father calls up the older IRA man.
One of the Provisionals follows the older IRA man. Meanwhile, Quinn goes to Sean's house to get Sean and the guns. Sean's mother tries to stop Sean from going out, but Sean just ignores her.
The IRA man, Boyle, arrives at Quinn's apartment. He knocks on the door and is let in. He tells the dad, Eamon, that everybody's looking for that soldier. The IRA man says he will be back soon. He leaves. Gary gets up to listen into Eamon and Brigit's conversation. He hears the dad say that if they hand over the soldier to Quinn and that lot, they will definitely kill the soldier.
The Provisional following Boyle returns to his group. Quinn asks where's Boyle? He's at Divis Flats at Eamon's place.
Gary takes his knife and sneaks out of the apartment. He starts walking away.
Seeking the soldier are now four groups: the IRA, the Provisionals, the MFR and the soldiers. The soldiers tag along with the MFR.
Gary's side wound hurts him so bad that he decides to stay at Divis Flats. Boyle is picked up by the MFR. He asks the leader to kill James Quinn for him. The leader just says alright. Now Boyle tells the leader that the soldier is at Divis.
Gary sees the Provisionals getting out of their car at the apartments. He climbs higher up the steps. The Provisionals knock on Eamon's door and are let in. Quinn demands to know where the soldier is. Brigid tells them that the soldier must have just walked away from their apartment.
The Provisionals go looking for Gary. Gary finds an unlocked door and ducks into the apartment. There is just a little girl there. When the Provisional goes by him, Gary leaves the apartment. The Provisional, the one who shot Gary's buddy in the face, now turns around to retrace his steps. Gary waits for the man just behind the corner. The man turns the corner and Gary stabs the man in the gut. The man goes down. He starts spitting us blood. Gary takes the man's pistol.
It starts raining. Gary starts walking. He runs right into Sean. Both fellows stop. Quinn comes up behind Gary and hits him over the head. Gary goes down.
The MRF arrive followed by the soldiers. The leaders tells Armitage to stay behind them and out of sight. Boyle meets up with the MRF men. He takes them to Eamon's apartment. One of the Provisionals is also in the apartment with his pistol drawn. Brigid opens the door and the four men rush into the apartment killing the Provisional. Boyle asks the dad and Brigid where is Gary Hook, the soldier. Brigit calls Boyle a traitor. The MRF leader says if Brigit doesn't tell him, he'll put a bullet in her father's head and then will put a bullet in Brigid's head. Brigid starts crying, saying she doesn't know where the soldier is. She says he left before Quinn got here. Now Boyle says that Quinn was here and Boyle knows where they will be now.
Quinn and others take Gary to another place. Quinn tells Sean to kill the soldier. Sean just stands there with the gun trained on Gary's head, but again he doesn't shoot. Quinn keeps telling the young man to kill the soldier because this is war. Gary is really shaking and says: "Please."
Armitage sees Boyle and the MRF go upstairs. The sergeant and another soldier tells the lieutenant that they have to go now! Now gunfire starts in the building. The soldiers now plead with Armitage that they have to do something. So Armitage goes followed by his men. The firefight continues and some of the men have been shot. Quinn is one of the fighters. The MRF sergeant/bomb specialist now is stalking in on Gary and any Provisional with him. The sergeant arrives, shooting Sean down. The sergeant says it's alright, but when Gary starts to relax, the sergeant starts to strangle Gary. Armitage arrives, realizes what the sergeant is doing, but Sean now raises his head up and shoots the sergeant twice. Armitage comes around the corner and shoots Sean once. Gary tried to save the boy, but it all goes too quickly.
The MRF leader captures Quinn. Instead of killing Quinn, he says that Boyle said Quinn was nothing but trouble and wanted him dead. Then he says Quinn needs to deal with Boyle and soon. The leader wants to work with Quinn. He now sends Quinn on his way. Gary goes into the truck and is safe for awhile, anyway.
Unbeknownst to the lieutenant, the MFR worked with the Protestants. When Armitage tells his commander that the MRF sergeant was trying to strangle Gary Hook, the commander sides with the MRF leader and involves himself in another cover-up. He says that the MRF sergeant was absolutely not trying to strangle the soldier. Armitage protests, but finally realizes he can't win, and he agrees with the commander. Hook listens outside to the conversation.
Hook is called in. The commander doesn't even ask Hook if the sergeant was trying to strangle him.
Hook travels back to England to see his brother, Darren. The doorman finally lets a now angry Hook inside. Darren comes out of his room and the two brothers are together again.
On the bus, Gary watches over his sleeping brother as the bus travels through the countryside.
This movie will keep its audience on the edge of their seats. A young British soldier just out of basic training gets lost in the most dangerous section of Belfast. This poor, innocent soldier is soon being chased by or looked for by four different: groups the IRA, the MRF, the Provincials and his own military unit. Make sure you know who are these different groups in the film. My wife and I were a bit confused about who was who until I started doing my historical research. Especially find out what the MRF is (Military Reaction Force). Then you will probably be less lost in the film. Highly recommended.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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