Review: Belfast (2021 San Diego International Film Festival)


Title: Belfast
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Jamie Dorman, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jude Hill, Ciarán Hills
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins

What It Is: A young boy and his working-class family experience the tumultuous late 1960s, known as “The Troubles” in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast.

What We Think: If Dune was Denis Villeneuve’s passion project, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is his own. This film is indeed a love letter to Northern Ireland, and a deeply personal look into Branagh’s childhood (which most of the film is based on), making the subject matter all the more compelling to watch. What Branagh accomplishes here is a brilliant mix of drama, comedy, and realism not often seen in a genre such as this one. Actually, it’s safe to say that the style and substance of the film are genre-bending; the historical aspects are indeed authentic, but the story itself is organic, while also being written and directed to a tee.

Everyone delivers amazing performances, especially the younger actors. I’m amused to mention that this might be the first year where I’d champion a child actor for Best Actor – Jude Hill is funny, heartbreaking, and innocent. His co-stars are as equally impressive, with Jamie Dorman, Caitriona Balfe, and Judi Dench seamlessly switching between leading and supporting roles; whenever the camera is on them, they’re more than present. Stunning, top-tier work from every actor.

The cinematography is marvelous as well. From the film’s opening credits we do get some gorgeous shots of modern-day Belfast and for a moment it looks like we’re diving straight into a documentary due to how lifelike the images are. Once the camera pans over that brick wall, however, we are transported to another time instantaneously. The black and white cinematography here is reminiscent of Cold War (another fantastic period piece), and it’s the first and best comparison I can make. The blocking and framing of the shots are precise and centered, and the lighting is ever so gorgeous when the outside world darkens in the film. Also, the ‘riot’ scenes are incredibly done. The audience I saw the film with was constantly reacting to the chaotic set pieces, which shows the amount of expertise put into the art department/production design.

Our Grade: A; Overall, I believe Belfast is going to be an audience favorite come awards season. Well acted, directed, and shot, it’s a great twist on your typical historical drama. From the reactions my audience had at SDIFF, it only solidifies that point tenfold – Belfast is a hit.

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