DIR/WRI: Nathan Todd • PRO: John Todd • DOP: Peter Holland • ED: John Wright • DES: Nigel Pollock • Cast: Colm Meaney, Malcolm Sinclair, Tommy O’Neill, Paddy Rocks
Former engineering student Nathan Todd makes his debut as writer and director with A Belfast Story, a film from Northern Ireland about the continuing effects of the Troubles. It centres on the killings of former IRA men. Colm Meaney plays a loyalist detective called in to investigate.
A Belfast Story plays like an episode of a low-key television detective drama. All the usual elements are present: the world-weary detective, continuing brutal murders as the police try to work out who’s responsible, and glimpses of the killers’ activities. We see newspapers cuttings pinned to walls, joined together with red yarn; open books strewn over the floor. The whodunit aspect might have worked if the handling was not so amateurish.
Todd uses the premise to vent contemporary concerns about ex-killers working in government, blurring the lines between right and wrong. But his first screenplay ignores a cardinal rule in film: “Show, don’t tell.” Too often, his characters engage in longwinded polemics, and Detective Meaney indulges in verbose monologues. The film might have worked as a thriller, but pacing suffers from its overwritten script. The clichés become tiresome: “It’s a dangerous world out there.” “All I want is a bright new day.”
The killings include the shooting of a shopkeeper among his mannequins in a shop window, the execution of three men in a field, and the murder of a former IRA commander with concrete blocks. Todd strives to display some visual flair and style in these sequences, with their conscientious framing and cutting, but his approach glamorises violence rather than condemning it.
Meaney appears to play a central role, but the killings begin to take up more screen time, and the film becomes muddled with underdeveloped subplots involving the chief constable (Malcolm Sinclair), First Minister (Tommy O’Neill), his aide (Susan Davey), and former IRA members (Paddy Rocks and Maggie Cronin).