Belfast is an indulgent mess of a memory.
Let’s just get the big thing out of the way. Belfast is the ‘supposed’ best picture front runner and more than likely winner. In that regard this film is a complete disappointment for me. In the likes of Green Book, The Artist, Shakespeare in Love and I mean let’s be real the list goes on and on of films that are just complete ‘Oscar Bait’. Pretentious artsy films that lose all sense of depth and weight by focusing on individual elements. Now I’m not saying this film was made or created to be ‘Oscar Bait’ intentionally, or even consciously, but I am saying ‘Oscar Bait’ is a result of lazy direction, production, creativity and mostly a lack of discipline and restraint. All things this film suffers with.
So, let’s get into the film.
Belfast tells the story of its Director, Kenneth Branagh’s childhood growing up and being raised in the city of Belfast in the country of Ireland. It’s a film about childhood, family, political upheaval, immigration, religion, politics, age, love, and it’s about home. Which sounds brilliant on paper right?
Well, it is, but where this film falls flat, for me, is in the execution and the combination of all its disparate elements.
The first element I want to bring up is the narrative. It has a fascinating core. The story of a young boy and his family and having to decide whether to pick up and leave their home for reasons political, emotional, and financial. That core is a beautiful one and at times the movie shines with it up front. There are moments with the young boy (played by Jude Hill) where I truly felt the core of the narrative hit emotional highs. But the film loses its core constantly. It feels so unfocused and sporadic at times. It feels more like a narrative of highlight reels then an actual propulsive story that pushes forward while amplifying its core all the way through.
The film has moments where it leaves the young boy and focuses on the family, whether it’s the dad, or mom, or even grandparents. These moments of the narrative felt more like detours then additive elements. I understand it’s more of a familial story, but it doesn’t achieve that well either in my perspective. It all just felt spread too thin for far too long. Some narrative beats also feel so hammy to me, or pretentious, and predictable. Moments with the father and mother seemed obvious and “Oscar-moment-ish” again, I don’t think anyone intended that, but it came off as thin. I loved all the moments with the young boy and was interested and attached to his perspective of the entire narrative. I often sighed when the film would leave his perspective. I wish the entire film could’ve just been seen through his eyes. In my opinion he was the most interesting and fascinating part of it all.
The second element is the cinematography. For me this was the element that broke my back. I had no idea what the visual identity of this movie was. There were individual moments of beautiful compositions and lighting but again like the narrative. It all felt like a mushy messy mass. There were moments where from scene to scene the framing and style made no sense. It felt like they almost tried to make every shot beautiful, but without having the idea of what the entire visual voice of the film was going to be?
The other big elements of the film suffered from the same problem, the audio design, the score, the performances, except for the little boy nobody sold me on feeling real or tangible. I don’t think it’s the performers’ fault, but the fault of Branagh. I just think at the end of the day his direction lacked in having a central and focused voice for this project, he lacked conviction, which I think is necessary for a film about revisiting the past and life.
So, in ending
Belfast = 4/10 Bad
Belfast is a messy, obvious, and flat film about the city and the experience the filmmaker went through in his childhood. It lacks focus, voice and more importantly conviction. There are great individual moments, but it simply doesn’t add up to anything meaningful by the end.