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New films: Insurgent, The Gunman & ’71

Running a little late this week, but here’s a moviebriefs roundup of two fairly mainstream releases and a much better, relatively unknown film.

A year ago, I wrote a far longer essay comparing “Divergent” with assorted other films in the Young Adult genre. I enjoyed the film and found it relatively logical but also less flashy than some of the competition. I was ready for more of the same with “Insurgent,” even re-watching “Divergent” a couple of days before the press screening. Sadly, “Insurgent” falls almost completely flat and it does so while seeming to add very little to the developing story. Tris and the gang have escaped Jeanine’s attempt at factional genocide and they are now outlaws in future Chicago, attempting to clear their names and stop Jeanine, while staying one step ahead of capture. The problem is that while we find out one or two new facts about their world, it feels like information that could have been conveyed in a single scene at the end of the last movie, without needing two hours of people running in circles and showing up in the nick of time. Perhaps the most significant development is that by the end, it starts feeling closer to “The Maze Runner” than “The Hunger Games.”

One of the other comparisons I made last year was to “The 100” on television, which had just started. A year later, the “Divergent” series seems to have lost complexity while “The 100” has thrived with some of the most interesting and twisted storylines in the genre. Obviously it’s easier to accomplish more in an entire season of a television series than in a single movie, but this particular movie didn’t even seem to be trying.

It’s easy to compare “The Gunman” to the “Taken” series with Liam Neeson, with Sean Penn seemingly being the latest aging actor wanting to reinvent himself as an action star. But in some ways it’s more like Neeson’s recent “Run All Night,” with Penn playing a man who has done many bad things in his life, damaging himself in the process, and who now has a chance at some limited type of redemption. Penn’s character, Terrier, like so many before him, is a man who’s improbably hard to stop. When somebody tries to kill him, years after a dubious operation involving the assassination of a foreign minister, he has to track down the others who were there to see who is attempting to erase the record.

The one interesting factor that stops this film from disappearing into the noise of similar films designed to make those of us in the AARP demographic feel that maybe we could still get back into shape, is that Terrier wasn’t working for a spy agency or the government. Although he’s ex-Special Forces, his more recent professional past was in the world of private security contractors, which seems to have become the default euphemism for what were once called mercenaries. If nothing else, it serves as an interesting commentary on what seems to be a growth industry with very little oversight. “The Gunman” brings little new to the screen, but it did keep me engaged with a slightly more intriguing plot than we’re often given.

The best new film in Sacramento theaters this week is probably also the least well known and likely to make the least money. “‘71” tells the story of a young soldier in the British army, sent to Northern Ireland in 1971, to help patrol the chaotic streets of Belfast during “the troubles.” Having been trained to fight a more traditional war, he and his equally young colleagues don’t know what to make of house to house searches, burning hulks of cars on residential streets, and the fact that they’re facing off against their fellow citizens rather than unknown foreigners. When he gets separated from his platoon, he finds himself effectively behind enemy lines in a neighborhood controlled by the Irish republican Army, an organization simultaneously doing internal battle between rival factions. What follows is a desperate bid to survive while being hunted by more parties than even he realizes. The main character is played by Jack O’Connell, recently seen in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and more worthy of attention in this far better film. It’s a powerful and moving story and an impressive feature debut by director Yann Demange.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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