Belfast (Kenneth Branagh, 2021, UK)

Belfast is the latest effort from director Kenneth Branagh. Branagh has had a prolific and varied career going back to the 1980s. He got his start for his adaptations of Shakespeare, but at a certain point became a director-for-hire in Hollywood, directing big-budget titles like Thor (2011), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), Cinderella (2015), and Murder on the Orient Express (2017). He also experienced some major flops, such as Artemis Fowl (2020), which undoubtedly led the trajectory toward Belfast, which is by far Kenneth Branagh's most personal film.

Taking place in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the end of the 1960s, the film tells the story of a boy simply known as Buddy - wonderfully played by Jude Hill. He lives with his father (Jamie Dornan), mother (Caitronia Balfe), grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds), and brother. The film seems idyllic in its black and white opening of the neighborhood but dynamically explodes with violence in one of the film's best sequences, as a riot breaks out. The Troubles are plaguing Northern Ireland, and many of the locals are deciding whether to leave or stay - including Buddy's family.

Yet Belfast is not a political film, and most of the political events stay at the periphery of Buddy's vision. Any criticism that you have of the film can be explained away by the fact that the film is meant to be seen through the eyes of a child, who is, in turn, a stand-in for a young Kenneth Branagh. Belfast is a film that is not great by any measure but is difficult to hate in its earnestness. It is not cloyingly sweet and manages to capture a level of social realism without becoming too contrived. There are moments of great beauty in the film that certainly make it worth checking out, even if it is an attempt at Awards bait.



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