Belfast (Blu-ray Review)

Kenneth Branagh finally brings his personal passion project to the screen.  Belfast  has been something Branagh has wanted to make for a time.  Semi-autobiographical, the film is about a little boy growing up in a torn community, not sure where to turn, what to think is right and how to navigate life with so many sudden changes.  Pair this with a Van Morrison soundtrack and passion project completed.  Released on 3/8, Belfast is already available for purchase! Read more on Belfast inside and be sure to click the paid link should this film strike your fancy.




Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Kenneth Branagh, Belfast is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the music and social tumult of the late 1960s. Buddy’s family lives in a largely Protestant district with a few Catholic families but one day his community and everything he thought he understood about life is suddenly turned upside down. Buddy’s family gets caught in the mayhem and must decide to stay or leave the only place they have ever called home. Through it all, his passionate parents (Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) and quick-witted grandparents (Academy Award®-winner Judy Dench and Ciarán Hinds) keep the joy alive through music and the magic of movies in this feel-good story that reminds us that no matter how far you go, you never forget where you came from.

The setup we’ve seen before.  The presentation we’ve seen before.  The subject we’ve seen before.  Are you sensing a pattern yet? I am ecstatic for Kenneth Branagh to be making movies and doing his thing, but for this to be this “Oscar contender” film is a bit of a surprise to me.  Upon viewing a trailer for the film, I immediately went to the film Roma with its very similar black and white look.  The film is told almost entirely black and white, with a splash of color here and there when the family is seeing movies together.  For me, anyway, this feels like a very big takeaway from another film and that’s not a great thing.

The story of Belfast is a fairly simple coming of age tale.  Buddy is an enigmatic, imaginative young lad, exploring his battle torn neighborhood through a very cinematic lens.  Thanks to the movies he sees, his grandparents wonderful advice and his mother’s love, Buddy is a well rounded kiddo despite an absentee father (he works in London) and some strong reservations about the issues plaguing his homeland (The film takes place during the Catholic/Protestant “Troubles” of the 1960’s).

Belfast is meant to be semi-autobiographical for Kenneth Branagh, and to have him tell his story is interesting.  This particular telling of the story though, has the cloying issue of feeling totally familiar, but from so many other sources.  The Van Morrison soundtrack is sort of nice in a sense, but even that feels borrowed from another film. In fact – It is! The film The Five-Year Engagement features almost entirely the music of Van Morrison.  The story itself feels borrowed from a thousand other movies about kids approaching puberty. The arcs of falling for a girl, trying to get the girl, seeing family change, growing up in some ways and struggling in others.  Think of a film you like that has those moments, and you’re in for better entertainment.

All told, Belfast feels wholly unoriginal, moves at a ridiculously slow pace for a movie that doesn’t go past an hour and forty minutes, and what has been touted as a “feel good” film, instead feels drab, boring and dreary.  There aren’t many moments of wonder here and the talented cast feels wasted.  Judi Dench, who can act her way through anything feels the most wasted here. Young Jude Hill will be in better films in the future I hope, and the others in the cast also work hard with very little to work with.


  • Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: HD (1080p)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Layers: BD-50
  • Clarity/DetailBelfast comes home with a tack sharp HD presentation. Shot at a resolution over 4K (4.5K to be exact), the transfer is crisp and clean.  Moments of color are of course far more gorgeous than the Black and White, but the overall look is nice, clean and clear.
  • Black Levels: Deep blacks, thanks no doubt to the digitally enhanced black and white cinematography, there are no crush moments or over darkened shadow details here.
  • Color Reproduction: The brief moments of color are bright, warm and beautiful.
  • Flesh Tones: N/A
  • Noise/Artifacts: 


  • Audio Format(s):English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Spanish: DTS 5.1, French: DTS 5.1
  • Subtitles:English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Dynamics: This is a dialogue and music heavy film. Those two things are presented perfectly here.  The rest of the soundstage is wide, open and quite nice too.  Ambient neighborhood sounds fill the screen and there are a few moments of violence that add to the soundtrack as well.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: Surrounds often cater to slight moments in quiet scenes. They come to life when music is going on and put you right in Buddy’s ear space when he explores the block.  The scope of the film is very small, and so the soundstage puts you square in the middle of the “action” so to speak.  Since the film was released theatrically in Dolby Atmos, there is no doubt a more immersive mix somewhere.
  • Height: N/A
  • Low Frequency Extension: Bass is reserved for music, the odd moment of Troubles urgency and that’s about it.
  • Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue sounds excellent, and you won’t miss a moment of pithy dialogue.


Belfast arrives on Blu-ray with a slipcover, DVD and Digital Code.  The extras are par for the course with most Universal releases the last year or so – Brief, non-exciting and then some deleted scenes and/or commentary:

  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (HD, 2:44) – Brief incidental scenes, not worth much at all.
  • Filmmaker’s Commentary with Kenneth Branagh: This could be more interesting than the film itself. Branagh talks about the film and making it, and it’s a lovely listen.
  • Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary: While this is the preferred ending for Branagh, it would make the film even worse in my eyes.
  • A City of Stories – The Making of Belfast (HD, 9:47): How one makes a “Making of” doc and it only lasts less than ten minutes, I’ll never know, But here we have it…
  • Everyone’s Inner Child (HD, 1:54): Cast members reflect on their childhood experiences while trying to relate them to Buddy’s.


Kenneth Branagh has done worse in his time.  He has also done far, infinitely better work too.  Belfast has been given high praise, 7 Oscar nods and much more.  In my humble opinion, it feels like critics and awards committees have mostly just taken pity on the little movie, and are nominating because they can’t bring themselves to nominate a more commercial film in Belfast’s place.  While this may have been deeply personal for Branagh to create, it doesn’t make the film redeemable for simply being personal.  This is banal, bland and been there done that.  Count me in the minority, or the offensive when it comes to this one.  I am happy to only have had to take one look at this blah film.

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