‘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

I Watched ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ on the Same Weekend: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 156 Minutes
Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.

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