Cinema Review: A Belfast Story


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.”

Handling of action scenes also leaves much to be desired. A night-time chase on a suburban street features close-ups and zooming shots of innocent passers-by à la Sergio Leone, but it engenders laughter, not tension. A flashback sequence featuring a little girl crying amid the carnage lacks the required conviction. It’s easy to discern the desired effect, but execution is wanting.

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).

“We need something new … not just the same tired old thing,” says Meaney. The press pack included a balaclava, nails and a roll of duct tape. The controverisal publicity was novel, but the film’s treatment of the choice in Northern Ireland between reconciliation and retribution isn’t.

John Moran

15A (See IFCO for details)

99 mins
A Belfast Story is released on 20th September 2013

A Belfast Story – Official Website


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