Friday, November 12, 2021

Belfast - Movie Review

The Movie: Belfast

The Director: Kenneth Branagh

The Cast: Catriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, Jude Hill

The Story: A young boy and his working class family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.

The Review:
Over the course of human history, so many arguments, confrontations, acts of violence, battles, and all out wars have been born out of disagreements related to religion and/or politics and the country of Ireland has seen the affects of that in very extreme ways during nearly its entire existence. Kenneth Branagh's latest feature film jumps right into this topic by creating a family centered story that is set during the 1960's, a time when those disagreements turned to violence and escalated to attempts at religious cleansing.

The director presents his story in beautifully rendered black and white visuals that emphasize the time period and give a sense of place and texture to the story that I feel is more appropriate than if it was in full color. it seems more raw and gritty which definitely matches the tone of the movie. The families we see are working class, struggling to get by, and living each day to make sure the next one is a little better than the last. Even without color, Branagh does some great things with the lighting and emphasizes darkness when needed. You can tell a lot of thought and work was put into it well beyond just making it a black and white movie.

The core and focus of the story itself is Buddy, the young boy played by Jude Hill who brilliantly makes his debut feature performance by giving his character so much life and personality. Watching his story unfold on screen made me remember being that age and making the kind of decisions he makes and is at times forced to make. Of course, I never had to deal with what he went through in the movie but that's the beauty of it as Buddy is still relatable even under extreme circumstances.

Buddy's parents are played by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan (only credited as Ma and Pa respectively) who, thanks to their performances are really the heart and soul of the movie. We see their struggle trying to keep their relationship afloat while also providing for Buddy, their other son, and even Pa's own parents. The struggle is what's most affecting about their journey along with the undercurrents of love and devotion that always seem to prevail when they are most needed.

The family drama is punctuated by the bigger picture that plays out as riots and political instability give a constant threat of death, destruction, and displacement. Men are asked to choose sides in the struggle or be condemned as an enemy of whatever movement they decline to be a part of. What adds to the drama with all of this going on is knowing that Kenneth Branagh wrote the story from a semi-autobiographical perspective so what we see in the movie is based on what he experienced as a child.

The Verdict:
Belfast is an inspiring and extremely personal story from Kenneth Branagh and might just be his best work to date. Presented in a beautifully rendered black and white aesthetic that emphasizes the time period, the story is a raw and textured commentary that is unexpectedly uplifting when it's all said and done.

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