Although it takes place in a specific part of history a hemisphere away, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical coming of age drama Belfast (C) manages to churn out sentimentality in a perfectly generic geopolitical bundle. The action is set during “The Troubles,” a time of religious unrest and warfare in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to early 1970, often seen through the lens of child star Jude Hill, a wide-eyed and rather unconvincing central protagonist. Branagh struggles with creating narrative momentum or a reliably consistent point of view on a rather limited milieu of cramped houses of a street and alleyway backlot. The film manages to keep the stakes pretty low. Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench all have strong moments as two generations of the protagonist’s family, but it also feels a bit like assembling a bunch of perfunctory stock characters. The film is a bit of a circuitous journey toward ultimate uplift and eschews many of the greatest hits in the family’s journey. Overall it’s a swing and a miss: surface gloss of history, mostly inert. Even the fact that it’s filmed in naturalistic black and white comes off as lazy shorthand for an under-stuffed memory box. The film zig zags between cloying, sentimental, cutesy, contrived and saccharine – and back again.
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