In Cinemas Now – A Belfast Story: Review by William McClean

A Belfast Story (**)

Certificate 15

Running Time: 99 minutes

Directed By: Nathan Todd

Starring: Colm Meaney, Malcolm Sinclair, Tommy O’Neill and Tim McGarry

THE success of the Teri Hooley biopic Good Vibrations proved that Northern Irish film-goers had a real appetite for locally produced features that dealt with local topics. Coupled with the booming film industry present within the Province, means local filmmakers have never had a better opportunity to get their film’s out to a receptive audience. It’s such a shame then to see it squandered on a feature like as A Belfast Story.

Written and directed by local filmmaker Nathan Todd, the Irishman makes his directorial début on a feature that he claims explores the traumatic legacy of terrorism left upon Belfast. Sadly however it plays out more like a run-of-the-mill crime thriller, but only with a Northern Irish backdrop.

Colm Meaney stars as the world-weary detective who is fast approaching retirement, but tasked by his superiors to discretely solve a series of ghastly murders throughout Belfast. Former members of the IRA are being brutally killed within the city, leaving local politicians and police officials worried that someone is trying to reignite the 30 year conflict. As Meaney’s character probes deeper with his investigation, old memories begin to resurface that leads him to question his own morality on the subject.

Much like his fellow countryman Brendan Gleeson, Meaney has a wonderful on-screen persona and as expected he gives a solid and charismatic performance throughout. His character’s lamentations on the state of affairs of his country are undoubtedly the film’s highlight. But Meaney is let down by some truly terrible performances by his onscreen, mostly local co-stars, with Tommy O’Neill’s wooden turn as the Northern Irish First Minister being just example.

There underwhelming acting only further highlights the poor quality of the film’s screenplay, which feels uninspired, laboured and cliché laden. Tonally it’s all over the place, with the writing offering little in the way of character development for anyone other than Meaney’s detective.

Taking aside the clear limitations with Todd’s screenplay, his directorial début does demonstrate however that the Irishman clearly has some clear talent behind the camera. Working with a limited budget he manages to create a feature that has an accomplished visual style and some credible action set-pieces.

The director caused considerable outrage when the contents of a press kit used to promote the film were revealed by the local press. A wooden box containing a balaclava, pack of nails and duct tape were posted to several film critics, with many community members and politicians claiming the PR stunt had been terribly insensitive and tasteless thing to do. Such naïvety towards the situation in Northern Ireland is so profoundly evident within the feature itself, that’s it’s surprising to know the film is written by a local man.

Watching A Belfast Story I was reminded of Terry George speaking in Belfast’s Queen’s Film Theatre, shortly after his Oscar-winning success in 2012. The local filmmaker claimed he was tired of film’s that primarily dealt with the province’s bloody past, claiming they didn’t show how far the country had come from those dark days.

This reviewer is of a similar mind-set and I’d far rather watch features like Good Vibrations, Made in Belfast or Jump, all of which offer film-goers a fresh perspective on life here in Northern Ireland. A Belfast Story however feels like it’s been released almost a decade too late, offering viewers very little if anything new about the Province. Truth be told,  the only thing this movie really does is clumsily pick at the old scars left by the conflict, which still haven’t yet fully healed.

Review by William McClean

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