‘Belfast’ Presents a Coming-of-Age Story in a Time of Troubles

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Belfast (CREDIT: Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

Starring: Jude Hill, Catríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Lara McDonnell, Olive Tennant

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Explosive Violence and Some Language

Release Date: November 12, 2021 (Theaters)

If you’re a nine-year-old boy who takes school seriously, can’t you just pine after the classmate you’re sweet on without having to worry about a war raging in your neighborhood? That’s the conundrum in which little Buddy (Jude Hill) finds himself in 1960s Belfast, Northern Ireland in the film named after the city written and directed by Belfast native Kenneth Branagh. He’s at that age when he’s really starting to notice the opposite sex, but you get the sense that he’s also the one of those kids who never thought that girls were icky. His teacher has a system wherein whoever does best on the math tests gets to sit at the front of the room. Buddy’s stuck in the middle when we meet him, while his crush Catherine (Olive Tennant, daughter of David) is firmly ensconced in the #1 position. Will Buddy work his way up to the front? It’s good motivation if you can get it.

We never doubt Buddy’s sweetness, or his studiousness, but we do worry that he might get waylaid by forces beyond his control, considering the time and place he’s living. This was the beginning of “The Troubles,” a decades-long ethnic conflict in the country. As presented in Belfast, it’s primarily a fight against Catholics instigated by Protestants. Buddy’s family are Protestants, but they’re decidedly against participating in the fight in any capacity. My reaction to the presence of The Troubles, both within the movie and in real life, is much the same as that of Buddy’s dad (Jamie Dornan), who basically tells the local ringleader, “Get out of here. We don’t want any part of this.” I really just want to see Buddy’s budding love life and the rest of what he does for fun. Perhaps the context of national strife provides some extra dramatic oomph, but I’m pretty sure I like coming-of-age stories even when they take place in times of peace.

So what else did I like about this movie? Buddy’s relationships with his family members were certainly a treat to peak in on. His mom (Catríona Balfe) steadily holds down the fort, while his grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds) are founts of wisdom. Also, there’s this really memorable scene at the end when his dad gives him some great advice about tolerance and open-heartedness. The moments when the family watch movies are also quite a bit fun (partly because they provide a bit of color to the otherwise black-and-white presentation). This certainly feels like the most personal directorial effort I’ve ever seen from Branagh. It is semi-autobiographical after all, and you can feel that.

Belfast is Recommended If You Like: British villages, Love fueled by academic success, Guileless discussions about religion

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Maths

Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.