Belfast by Kenneth Branagh [10/10]

Kenneth Branagh eschews both savagery and soppiness in “Belfast,” his highly stylized but emotionally weighty story of a Belfast family torn by pressures to leave the city as the Troubles take off in 1969. Shot in a warm black and white monochrome laced with occasional colors, and galvanized by Van Morrison songs, the film cuts to the essence of the times without ever using cliches. The acting is splendid throughout: Jamie Doran as the slightly roguish yet heroic father; Catriona Bailfe as the passionate mother; Judi Dench as the wrinkled grandmother; Ciaran Hinds as wise Pops; and, most important of all, Jude Hill as nine-year-old Buddy, around whom the movie swirls. The family’s house is a core location beautifully presented, being as it is in a mixed-denomination street that has the feel of a stage set. Branagh’s script is relentless as the violence between equally reprehensible British overlord thugs and Unionist hardmen ratchets up, and he relishes grand scenes such as the opening one of burning Catholic homes and, later, a looting riot. Throughout, Branagh returns again and again to the core question facing the family: how can they leave this charismatic city but what is the price of staying? One part a coming-of-age story, one part a love song to Belfast, and one part a retrospective of the unique Troubles, Belfast is a cinematic triumph that left this reviewer in tears.

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