Belfast Movie Review
In Belfast, a young boy in 1969 pines for love amidst increasing religious strife and violence. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the movie is a compelling time capsule of a film, even if the whole is less than its parts.
Jude Hill gives a glowing performance as the innocent Buddy, a boy of simple desires who begins to acknowledge that rocky times are ahead for his neighborhood, his family, and even his country. Even as Branagh explores the warning shots of civil war, he leans heavily on Buddy, and by proxy Hill, to keep the story earnest and light. Much, though not all, of the story is seen through Buddy’s eyes, and it’s a joy to experience.
Yet even at a brief 90-minute runtime Belfast feels long. It’s never dull, and yet I checked my watch at least five times. It’s a beautiful film, yet confined to a few small blocks the film feels too quaint at times, perhaps too family oriented for the subject matter it's trying to juggle.
It’s frustrating and baffling, because Branagh has composed many lovely moments amidst a highly personal film (the movie is based on his childhood). Beyond Hill, Catriona Balfe is fabulous and Jamie Dornan is rock solid. Judi Dench is slightly underutilized, while Ciaran Hinds is terrific. It’s hard to put a finger on where the film doesn’t gel, though it does get a tad schmaltzy toward the end (and an oddly "action-packed" climax is particularly disconcerting and out-of-character).
There is a lot to like in Belfast, most notably Hill. It’s a worthy film that deserves plaudits—but only small ones.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.