In its first weekend of wide release, Kenneth Branagh’s new feature “Belfast” hits theaters in the United States. The film tells the story of Buddy, a young child living in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the late 1960s. “Belfast” is an almost autobiographical picture for Branagh, as he was a young child in the city during the same time period.
Many critics expect this film to earn several nominations at the Academy Awards this March and I can see why. This is an extremely well-executed feature film that hits on its emotional beats successfully and includes great character moments throughout.
One of the best parts of “Belfast” is Branagh’s directorial skill. Coming off the critically panned “Artemis Fowl,” Branagh releases what may be the best work of his career. The film is highly stylized, being predominantly in black-and-white. With many wide-angle shots throughout, Branagh purposefully fits several characters into almost every frame, while also utilizing long takes and minimal cutting, creating a more naturalistic tone to the film. The direction and cinematography let you live with the characters, bringing you further into the story.
Another reason why this film succeeds is the characters. This is a brilliantly written film, largely because of its simplicity. The story brings you into the characters’ lives; you listen to them and see their strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately makes them feel more real. Though there isn’t necessarily a lead actor in the film, the performance that stood out the most was Caitríona Balfe’s. Playing the mother of Jude Hill’s Buddy, Balfe delivers an emotional performance, elevating what’s on the page. Though it is a competitive category this year, I can see her perhaps earning a best actress nomination at the Oscars, or maybe best supporting actress if they choose to nominate her there instead.
Surprisingly, some of the best parts of the film were the comedic elements. This movie hasn’t necessarily been advertised as a comedy due to its setting during the Troubles, but the comedic moments are what really take this film to the next level. Alone, the film’s story is a serviceable drama, but with the comedic bits peppered throughout, the picture elevates itself to another level of storytelling and execution. Sometimes, such a combination of drama and comedy can clash with each other, but it is very well integrated in this picture, never with any moments feeling out-of-place or atonal.
In terms of negatives, I would just say that the film’s plot is fairly predictable. After the first act, you largely know what the story will be, what character challenges will occur and what will change with the environment in Belfast. In the end, due to the brilliant direction, performances and comedic moments, such predictability doesn’t hurt the viewing experience of “Belfast” too significantly.
Ultimately, it is easy to see why this film is earning raving reviews from critics and is expected to make an awards run. Due to its brilliant direction, well-performed characters and well-executed comedic moments, the film earns a moderately strong recommendation.