REVIEW: ‘Belfast’ is a relatable, enjoyable black and white feature

The beginnings of the Northern Ireland Conflict are shown at a humble, micro-level, through the eyes of a young boy in this new film from Kenneth Brannagh.

The film is somewhat autobiographical, as Brannagh, who wrote and directed, grew up in Belfast, before his family relocated as the situation was heating up. The movie is told from the perspective of Buddy (Jude Hill), who lives with his family, which includes brother Will (Lewis McAskie), mother (Caitriona Balfe) and father (Jamie Dornan).

While his mother is always present, his father is mostly home just on the weekends, as he works as a contractor in England. The work situation comes into play heavily during the movie, as Buddy’s father sees moving the whole family to England as a good option with tensions heating in Northern Ireland.

Children often get just snippets of what’s happening in the world around them. Growing up, social, political and economic issues may be something a child hears about here and there, whether it’s from people around them or short bits of information from news casts.

The same is true for the marriage between two parents. Children will sometimes hear or see their parents arguing or discussing important matters, but will often get some idea of something going on, but not the full context.

“Belfast” is a movie very much capturing that aspect of childhood. In a way, it works as a double-edged sword.

The picture is a wonderfully authentic experience. Even if one didn’t grow up in this time period or location, the situations of being young and not fully understanding the happenings around you is entirely relatable.

There’s a realness in this slice of life movie. The settings feel lived in, the conflicts that rise up are intense and the relationships are genuine. It’s an honest portrayal, and having it all from Buddy’s perspective makes for an engaging coming of age experience.

Courtesy Focus Features and Northern Ireland Screen.

However, this leads to a problem with the movie, too. The film feels far too scattered at times, with the transition from scene to scene being less than smooth.

The main thrust of the film is the future of Buddy’s father’s job, yet scenes not related to the topic can come across as disjointed. There are abrupt starts and stops to experiences with Buddy which can throw a viewer’s attention off.

It can also be a bit disorienting to a viewer who has little knowledge regarding the conflict featured. There’s a bit of catch-up one must play if they’re going in blind to the situation.

With all that said, “Belfast” does continually win an audience back over. Nearly all of the scenes are filled with stirring emotions and meaningful dialogue.

Branagh’s script is undoubtedly well written, and the film is benefitted by stellar acting, too.

Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe are phenomenal as the protagonist’s parents. Both convincingly portray their characters feelings toward the undetermined future and danger that exists around them.

Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds, who play Buddy’s grandparents, are also superb in the film. Both of their characters are in scenes with humor and drama, and the performers do wonderful work. In fact, this was one of Dench’s best performances.

“Belfast” successfully showcases the ups and downs of childhood, with Branagh giving the project a lot of passion. Despite some issues, the film has so many scenes that are deeply emotional and touching, plus the way the movie serves as a love letter to the city of Belfast by Branagh is quite admirable. 3.8 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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