Like lemmings and barking seals, entertainment commentators and columnists have been celebrating Kenneth Branagh‘s Belfast, the winner of TIFF’s audience award and therefore a locked-down Best Picture nominee…joy and rapture and confetti in the air! Is HE the only outlet saying “wait a minute, hold on, it isn’t that great”?
HE to Phantom, a guy who wants very much to love Belfast and who thinks I’ve been cruel toward Branagh’s film: “I know this will upset you, but there really are people out there — nice, friendly, good-hearted people — who are just too easily taken in by emotionally pandering movies. It’s just the way it is out there.”
Billy Casper to HE: “Emotionally pandering movies? Like Green Book, you mean?”
HE to Casper: “Green Book captures emotional moments and assembles the elements just so. It’s much craftier than and delivers way above the level of Belfast.”
Casper to HE: “But other people believe that Belfast renders emotional moments and delivers just so. It’s bizarre that, after everything that happened in the 2018 campaign, you’re going to appropriate the Guy Lodge playbook. You’ve become the oppressor…sad.”
Phantom to HE: “I am fully aware of the type who is ‘too easily taken in by emotionally pandering movies’ but guess what — that doesn’t make them any less smart or any less discerning. Your insult was condescending, ignorant, unfair, unwarranted. I know this will upset you but films are still subjective. It won’t make you any less or any more if you love / hate any of them.”
HE to Phantom: “No — Belfast pours on the emotional syrup and charm and attempts at poignancy, and — this is key — without the necessary restraint and finesse. Branagh doesn’t trust his audience to tally the meaningful moments and emotional sink-ins on their own and arrive at a possibly profound finale. He keeps nudging and trying to neck-massage you to death. You can spot his scheme right away.
“The color introduction, for example, is designed to engage and comfort those viewers who have a slight problem with black and white. Branagh seems to be saying ‘we’re going with monochrome cinematography to convey a sense of the past, even though we know some of you aren’t that charmed by it. So before we begin the story here’s a segment that shows you what the city of Belfast is like today, and in robust, luminous color. Nice, huh? Okay, now that you’ve immersed yourself…’
“Within the first five minutes there’s a shot of young Jude Hill reacting to neighborhood political violence, and Branagh overcooks it — poor Hill has been goaded to explicitly convey shock and fear and to hold that look on his face. Kids (I was once eight years old) generally tend to be more startled and oddly excited when it comes to big turbulent traumas, but Hill’s expression relentlessly says “oh, my God!…this is so scary and threatening and terrifying!” On top of which Branagh doubles down by shooting Hill with a relentless 360 degree shot, around and around. The movie has just begun and the overkill is already in full throttle mode.”
Jordan Ruimy: “The movie lost me at the very start. It felt so overcooked and deliberately manipulated by Branagh.”