Friday, November 12, 2021

Belfast - Review


Northern Ireland in the late 1960s is not exactly a subject you’d expect to be at the center of one of the more crowd pleasing films on 2021. And yet, at the heart of Belfast is the tale of a family just trying their best to hold it all together, creating an inviting and even warm film amidst all the turmoil. An effortlessly poignant film, it’s more than just the semi-autobiographical story at the forefront, but a tribute to a resilient community in which its set. 

A semi-autobiographical film which chronicles the life of a working class family and their young son's (Jude Hill) childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital.

While the backdrop for this film is highly volatile and dangerous, the real heart of this story is the family emotions and drama in the foreground. The smaller moments, the one-on-one conversations with Buddy, the small blonde stand in for director Kenneth Branagh, are what make the film soar and the performances shine. Each one providing new perspective to the young boy whose concerns are far from those of the adults around him. He just wants to sit next to the girl he likes in school after all. 

And Jude Hill, the actor who plays Buddy, handles everything that’s thrown at him (outside of a poor attempt at throwing a tantrum). He’s on screen for most of the runtime, but it’s when his co-stars take center frame that you begin to see why this film has such huge early awards season momentum. 

A few simple conversations over the anxiety of leaving home with his grandparents, played be a lovable, frisky pairing of Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds is touching. One of the final scenes in which Jamie Dornan, playing the Buddy’s father, sings “Everlasting Love” is downright magical in the way it’s shot and the way that Dornan absolutely sells the hell out of his performance. But the true MVP is Caitriona Balfe as the steely, protective mother. She has multiple instances of flexing her acting muscles, but one particular scene proves just how spectacular she is here. 

For director Kenneth Branagh, this feels like his most personal film, as it should. It’s a semi-autobiographical look at his own life after all. Each frame radiates an energy, a warmth that can only come from a bond that a family shares. It’s a film that washes over you, a true crowd pleaser that never gets too full of itself. It’s got enough emotion in it without being devastating. And it’s got whole heaping of heart, maybe with some to spare. 

Perhaps the best word to describe Belfast is lovely. It’s an earnest film that paints a gorgeous picture, stroke by beautiful stroke, of a time, place and its people. There’s a universality here despite its focused setting. Everyone can recognize the struggles at play here, even if they take different forms, and in them we can see ourselves. With Belfast, Branagh has crafted a sincere and warmhearted tribute to his own parents, and all the others who showed people courage and love in a tumultuous time in Ireland. 

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