'Belfast' movie poster

(Focus Features)

A beautiful film about family and the struggles of living through a time of violence, “Belfast” tells the story of a young boy named Buddy, played by Jude Hill. Buddy and his family are navigating through their lives in Ireland when things start to get rough. Catholics and Protestants are constantly clashing with each other which leads to violence. 

With the end of the year fast approaching, many of the movies that will be nominated for the Oscars will start to be released, and “Belfast” definitely feels worthy of an award. It has already won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan star as Buddy’s parents, Ma and Pa. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds play his grandparents, Granny and Pop. These five characters are extremely believable in their family dynamic as they have great chemistry together and all put on great performances in their own ways. 

“Belfast” is Hill’s feature film debut and his acting ability really shines as he is able to show a lot of poise and emotions. He is also really funny in his different interactions, whether it be with his family or to the girl that he has a crush on. Balfe and Dornan show the struggles that they are going through as Buddy’s parents who try to keep everything together amid the chaos. They struggle with the option to stay in a place that is all they know or go somewhere safer and be launched into the unknown. Dench and Hinds constantly give Buddy life advice and try to help him as he grows up.

The film is written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, known best for directing “Thor.” He gives a nod to this history by including a Thor easter egg when Buddy is seen reading the comic book. Branagh knocks it out of the park with his directing. Although it is primarily in black and white, there are times when color pops, and it is absolutely stunning. The film starts out in color, showing various beautiful landmarks in modern-day Ireland before a great transition into black and white where viewers are taken into the world of the late 1960s.

The first scene in this period is breathtaking. It starts out innocent enough as it shows Buddy roaming around the streets. Then all of a sudden, an angry mob approaches and starts a riot. 

There is a beautiful shot just focused on Buddy taking in what is happening. It gives a 360 degree view of him as the riot is about to ensue, simultaneously showing the panic in his eyes and the chaos in the background. The various acts of violence are also stunning to look at even in black and white. The fact that there is no color enhances the violent acts. 

It is also interesting to see Branagh’s visual direction in the scene where the family goes to watch a movie or a play. What they are watching is in color, while the characters are still in black and white. This helps show how important these activities were for Buddy — through extreme close-ups, the audience is shown how immersed he is in what he’s watching. The music is also beautiful and plays an important role in accompanying some of the scenes.

It was a solid choice to portray this film as more of a family film than the battle between Catholics and Protestants. The fact that the rivalry is present is more than enough to sell the tension of the family. It allows the viewer to focus more on Buddy and how he is being taught important life lessons at such a young age. 

At just an hour and 38 minutes, the movie is a breeze to get through. Sometimes when a movie is this short it might feel a little rushed or incomplete. “Belfast” gets the point across in the time provided. It can only be viewed in theaters. 

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