Brian Henry Martin at the movies

A 'Controversial' Belfast film

Published Thursday, 19 September 2013
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Last month a very unusual press kit for an upcoming Irish film caused somewhat of a media storm when journalists received a balaclava, duct tape and a bag of nails in the post.

I was one of the 'lucky' recipients of this suspect PR device for the post-troubles thriller, A Belfast Story. While some reviewers were outraged, I was more bewildered. Why would you send such obviously insensitive items?

Of course, the filmmakers never meant to offend and public apologies were made but now I am more interested in whether the movie can deliver more than just tabloid headlines.

A Belfast Story is the feature film debut of writer/ director Nathan Todd, a former Queens University engineering student, who has swapped mechanics for dramatics. And he's decided to hit the big screen all guns blazing, so to speak, with a hard hitting look at the troubles behind the ceasefire, tackling big themes of war and peace, victims and justice.

Colm Meaney stars as jaded Belfast cop James, who is called in to investigate the brutal killing of a former IRA bomber. "I staked out this house years ago" mutters Meaney as he enters the crime scene "It was always raining."

Now the rain is a hail of nails in a devastating revenge bomb. More grisly murders follow, each one appearing to avenge a past wrong. Suddenly the tranquil city of Belfast is plunged back into bloody violence with masked men once again terrorising the streets. "I want assurances" says the Chief Constable (Malcolm Sinclair) "that we are not going back, not on my watch."

In his crumpled raincoat and with a hound dog jowl, Colm Meaney is a stocky Colombo with a sardonic twist of Rebus. "Every week I come here to see the ones I didn't save" he says as he wanders amongst the headstones of the city cemetery. With the ghosts of his past failures all around him, he now faces his most troubling case, to find the elusive killers hell bent on vengeance.

Unfortunately A Belfast Story never reaches the height of its towering ambition, mainly due to a clunky script which plants its dialogue firmly on the nose. Crooked lines like "We're sculpting hope from ashes" and "Give me my peace back" raise only a chuckle. The overbearing soundtrack does not help either, incessant bodhrans and whistles to the point of maddening. Also casting popular stand-up Tim 'Da' McGarry in a curiously straight role as a former IRA activist is either genius or foolishness but I am leaning towards the latter.

"We need something new" says Meaney's world-weary cop to himself in one strange scene, "Not the same old thing. Please God, not the same old pattern!", which made me think, was he talking about the escalating murders or the slumping script?

A Belfast Story has split the critics but for me it simply bit off more than it could chew.

A Belfast Story (Cert 15) opens on Friday 20th September

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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