“There is no our side and their side on our street. Well, there didn’t use to be, anyway.”
Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical ode to his youth, set in 1960s Belfast at the start of the Troubles, is is presented from the perspective of nine-year-old Buddy. Opening with sudden sectarian violence, the camera circles the overwhelmed child as we glimpse flashes of the action around him, heightened by the stark monochrome. Some have criticised its surface-level engagement with the Northern Ireland conflict, but that is not intended to be its focus save insofar as it invariably seeps into family life. It is more a coming of age tale as Buddy gets love advice from his grandparents and tries not to be led astray by his cousin. His home is filled with the love even as tensions in the city rise, ramshackle barricades becoming a permanent feature of the street. Branagh draws parallels through cinema, the boys watching specifically selected Westerns like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (“Has everyone in this country gone kill-crazy?!”) and High Noon (“You’re asking me to wait an hour to find out if I’m going to be a wife or a widow.”), whilst men patrol the street at night with burning torches as if in those same films. Likewise, the only moments of colour come from the arts, providing a beautiful black and white shot of Judi Dench with the warm colour of stage play reflected in her glasses. Filmed between opulent Agatha Christie adaptations with much of the same crew, Belfast is a more intimate and personal project which — although not particularly subtle in its crowd-pleasing intensions — is nevertheless well-observed, wonderfully acted and beautifully shot.
“What’s happened, happened. Which is an expression of fate in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”
Leaving aside Christopher Nolan’s misguided messianic desire to be the saviour of cinemas in the midst of a pandemic, Tenet is an ambitiously crafted, big budget disappointment. Relative perception of time has a been a consistent theme throughout most of Nolan’s filmmaking, manifesting here in the form of “inversion” whereby people and objects can be manipulated to move through time in reverse. This culminates in a couple of densely choreographed action sequences in the film’s final hour which operate with some characters moving forward through time and others in reverse. Unfortunately, the preceding hour and a half of less creative action and obtuse discussion by emotionally vacant characters will exhaust many viewers’ patience, worsened by Nolan’s oft-criticised sound mixing, frequently rendering dialogue incomprehensible as it is muffled by masks or overpowered by the soundtrack. Nolan’s past scripts demonstrate his capability at effectively communicating high concept ideas, be it the realistic time dilation of Interstellar or the multi-layered dreamworlds of Inception. By contrast, the rules by which Tenet operates only really come into focus as the film ends, rendering most of the action little more than pretty spectacle without clear stakes. Perhaps the intention is to force multiple viewings but nothing about Tenet is engaging enough to warrant the time investment.
“I can only see the world as it should be. And when it is not, the imperfection stands out like the nose in the middle of a face. It makes most of life unbearable. But, it is useful in the detection of crime.”
Kenneth Branagh’s slickly produced take on Agatha Christie’s most famous novel is filled with shots of sweeping grandeur but what lies beneath is disappointingly bland. Branagh invests some time getting beneath Poirot’s magnificent whiskers, exploring the way an obsessive need for perfection informs his skill as a detective. The remainder of the characters are merely sketches, providing the fantastic ensemble cast little to do with just a few scenes apiece. Presumably intended to capitalise on Sherlock Holmes’ return to popularity, the film works best as a character study of Poirot and the moral quandary he must resolve. However, it still relies on its central mystery, a whodunnit that unfolds poorly with excessive exposition and an unsatisfying reveal peppered with flashbacks to provide information not previously communicated.