“A young boy and his working-class Belfast family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.”

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Kenneth Branagh
Staring: Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds
Release Date: November 12, 2021

Belfast (2021) is set in its titular city in late 1969. The city has been besieged by neighborhood violence as a result of a sectarian conflict. Buddy (Jude Hill) is a nine-year-old focused on a his first crush and perfecting his math, but it is impossible for him to ignore the troubles happening all around him. Buddy’s parents, Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and Pa (Jamie Dornan), are doing their best to protect the innocent from the chaos surrounding their home, but as the violence gets closer to home, so does the need for action. Pa has an opportunity to move his family to London and out of Belfast, but strings keeping them tied to home grow more taught as the stress strangles them.

Kenneth Branagh, who both directed and wrote, Belfast, drew heavily from personal stories and experiences. That emotion is obvious with the way that the story is portrayed in black & white and how Branagh only shows things related to movies in color. It is obvious where Branagh found his escape from the world, and it is in movies. I think any movie lovers can relate to that. But what is more subtle and meaningful are the little moments Branagh frames. The one that sticks out to me is the shot of water falling on the pail with the rain; it is a personal memory and also a personal sound. Everyone has one of those.

The standout performer of the largely recognizable cast is a relative no-name. Caitriona Balfe plays Ma, the emotional support for her kids and the anchor of tradition. She continuously is putting off Pa’s urging to move out, but finally she has to break. Buddy’s innocence is taken advantage of and he participates in the looting of a store. When he brings home soap to home, Ma brings him back to the convenient store to return it, but instead is caught in the crossfire of a civil unrest she wants no part of.

It also has to be said that Catriona Balfe is absolutely stunning and beautiful. She is impossible to look away from.

The next pair of great performances in Belfast are Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as Granny and Pop. The pair have a perfect grandparents relationship, but it’s their relationship with Buddy that makes the movie’s heart pump. They are hardened by the city they live in, but they carry the love it has given them proudly. Granny and Pop share this love with Benny through Wisdom and kindness.

You’re Buddy from Belfast 15, where everybody knows you and your pop looks out for you and your mummy looks out for you, your daddy looks out for you, your granny looks out for you, your brother looks out for you, and the whole family looks out for you. And wherever you go and whatever you become, that’ll always be the truth. And that thought will keep you safe. It’ll keep you happy… Will you remember that for me?

— Pop, Ciarán Hinds in Belfast

Both Dench and Hinds where nominated at the 94th Academy Awards…and I am writing this review while watching them right now. I do not expect them to win either supporting category, but they both deserved to be recognized. The scene with Pop saying his final goodbye to Buddy and Pa, which I have quoted above, is the closest I got to crying in this movie.

Kenneth Branagh, what a career this guy has had. The eight-time Oscar nominee is back at his best with Belfast. To quote the great Big Cat of Barstool Sports: “It is cool to care a lot about something.” It is without fail that Kenneth Branagh cared a metric fuck ton about telling this story. The intensity of violent moments have to directly pulled from his gut because the visuals are so specific. Branagh is nominated for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay and both are rightfully deserved.

In total, Belfast was nominated seven categories: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Directing, Best Sound and Best Original Song. Belfast is the first movie of Branagh to get more than just one Oscar nomination since Henry V (1989).

The only notch against Belfast is the fact that it is hard to enjoy as much as it is to admire. It is stunning to look at, and listen too. However, the story itself is not engrossing in full without Pop or Granny on the screen. There are other movies among the nominations that have excellence in the tactical production and in the entertainment value. Belfast has all the rights to be there in the room, but the topic on conversation is going to be others.

BUT IGNORE WHAT I JUST SAID. Some people will be scared away by the not entertaining…but I can promise you worry-warts that you’ll be buying into what Belfast is selling in a matter of minutes.

STANKO RATING: B+ (3.5/5 Stars)

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