Belfast (2021): Kenneth Branagh’s Personal, Moving, Coming of Age Tale Slices Life Into Wonderfully Linked Pieces

“Belfast” is directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Murder on the Orient Express) and stars Caitríona Balfe (Outlander, Ford v Ferrari), Judi Dench (Cats, Skyfall), Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall), Ciarán Hinds (The Woman in Black, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Colin Morgan (Testament of Youth, Merlin), and Jude Hill. This film is a semi-real tale that encapsulates a portion of Kenneth Branagh’s life. Throughout the film we see a mix of Buddy’s somewhat carefree life as a child, a tale of growing up, while times are tough in the titular city.

One of the questions of the pandemic is what kinds of movies we are going to get in the future. After all, like the pre-pandemic days, we have seen that comic book movies, with a couple exceptions like “The New Mutants” and “The Suicide Squad,” have been financially successful, as much as the latter deserved a much better result. One of the movies I felt could be in danger with the increasingly common blockbuster dominating from one month to the next is those films that tell a slice of life tale. Films like “Roma” or “Chef,” which I watched for the first time recently and thought was phenomenal. Easily Jon Favreau’s best work.

So after watching blockbusters like “The Matrix Resurrections,” which I rolled my eyes over, and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which I adored, it felt somewhat refreshing to see something as small as “Belfast,” even though I ended up watching it in Dolby Cinema. I remember watching the trailer for this film a couple months back and it looked like a film that would make you want to explore the world. That’s an exaggeration if there was one, but between the black and white presentation, Kenneth Branagh’s name being attached, and some of the written dialogue that I have already heard, the film at minimum looked like a recipe for something special.

As far as my first impressions go, I would have to say that even though you cannot have a story without conflict, I will say that I am surprised that “Belfast” managed to immerse me in such conflict as well as it did. Granted, part of it is due to the Dolby Cinema experience being off the charts obnoxious and insane, but I would have to say that it also has to do with Kenneth Branagh’s impressive directorial skills that put you right in the center of whatever action is in the film, even though this really isn’t an action movie. Whenever there is a quickly paced scene, I felt like I was in the moment with these characters. There’s a rather explosive moment in the beginning of the film that stuck with me due to how both poignant it is and how effectively it establishes the timeframe, the atmosphere, the struggles our characters have to go through from day to day.

For the record, I am in my twenties, but there are days where I feel like a child, and that’s probably one of the few reasons why I think it is why to have Jude Hill’s character of Buddy be the center of this story. Seriously, there are times where I felt like I was looking at an eleven year old version of myself. Although probably less awkward, more confident, and more likely to get into trouble. You know how when you really like someone as a child, you think that’s going to be the person you want to marry later in life? The writing for “Belfast” feel weirdly nostalgic for my time just before I was a teenager. I did not do all the things the lead kid did at his age, I think I was a bit more of a “model child,” and arguably more than I should have been. I think at that time, I was way too concerned about following rules than trying to object to authority, but there are nevertheless things about my life as a child that applied to Buddy that I remember from that age.

Also, people often talk about hard it is to direct children, I think there is an argument to make that Kenneth Branagh makes it look easy. A lot of professional actors can give a great performance. In fact I would say that some of the adults in this film like Jamie Dornan do just that, but I will contend that Jude Hill (left) gives one of my all time favorite child performances in a film.

Ever.

Hill packs a punch in every scene he’s in. Whether it’s a lighter moment or a heavier, world-crushing segment that would be hard for a child to go through. I will not get into details that spoil the film, but I would put Hill’s performance amongst one of the greats. He’s up there with people like Mackenzie Foy in “Interstellar,” Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone,” and Jacob Tremblay in “Room.”

I do not have a ton of problems with “Belfast,” other than maybe the fact that Jude Hill gives a better performance as a child that make the grown-up actors look inexperienced, but I feel like this film will lack the rewatchability factor for me. This is a film that I probably will pick up and watch again at some point, but similar to “The Last Duel,” which is a fantastic piece of art, it is hard for me to determine when I am going to sit down and watch “Belfast” from start to finish for my own amusement. I feel like it could get a rewatch one night when I have nothing better to do, but it’s hard to tell. As for other remarks, I do think the accents were a little hard to follow, but that’s probably more on me as a citizen of the United States being somewhat accustomed to my culture than anything else. That’s not something that really should affect the score of the film, but if you are not from the area this film is referencing, or if you live where I live in the world, I would recommend maybe putting on subtitles if you choose to watch this film at home.

I don’t often say this about a movie, you may notice that in some movies they’ll have a quick statement about someone who passed away once it ends, which is a great thing to do. But one of the best things about “Belfast” in general is its personal touch from Kenneth Branagh, this very much feels like a harkening back to his youth. Even if it is not about his youth specifically. And if I wanted to, I could make a film about my community from when I was young, but Branagh did such a great job at making his childhood, or at least some variant of it, feel, as weird as it is to say, universal and singular at the same time. The point is, when the film makes its dedication at the end, I won’t get into detail, but when it does this, I felt the words in front of me. I felt like I walked out having taken something from someone else’s life, which made me appreciate “Belfast” more.

In the end, “Belfast” is a home run for Kenneth Branagh. I have respect for the man as a professional and I think that has only increased after watching this film. This is a proper tale of sides not getting along, struggles of being in an environment where times are tough, and weirdly enough, as timely as this phrase is, feels like a film we need right now. Because this has every single emotion from joy to sadness to laughter, it’s everything you could want in a story. This is not my favorite movie of the year, but I will recommend it to just about anyone. I think this movie could do some damage at the Oscars this year. I’m going to give “Belfast” an 8/10.

“Belfast” is now playing in theaters and is also available to rent on premium VOD.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the first 2022 film I’m going to tackle on Scene Before, “Jackass Forever.” This is honestly one of the more impromptu reviews I’ve done in this blog’s history, but I am looking forward to doing it nevertheless. Also coming soon, I will be sharing my thoughts on “Moonfall,” so that’s two dumb fun movies in a row. Be sure to do a crossword in between or something so you can feel smart. If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Belfast?” What did you think about it? Or, have you been to Belfast? What’s it like there? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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