Film Review: A Belfast Story

He might have the dirty mac and some of the same letters in his name, but Star Trek and Alpha Papa actor Colm Meaney delivers a pretty feeble Columbo routine in A Belfast Story, the feature debut from writer-director Nathan Todd. Set on the bloody trail of a pair of killers, Meaney’s world-weary Detective contrives to completely overlook a couple of key elements of the crime-busting equation: namely identifying any suspects or formulating any lines of inquiry. Oops.

A Belfast Story - FIlm Review

Instead the hapless copper just mopes around the Northern Irish capital, showing up where people have already been murdered, looking as miserable and ineffectual as a soiled dish-rag.

Unfettered as they are to continue on their killing spree, the assassins get down to business like a couple of rutting rhinos, offing victim after victim after victim – some in bizarrely convoluted circumstances. Death by poisoned chip, anyone? Followed by the coup de grâce of a pane of glass being smashed over the corpse? Yeeeeeah…

Perhaps inevitably, the murders are all tied into Belfast’s past as a crucible for sectarian strife. The key figure in all this is the First Minister (Tommy O’Neill), a man desperately trying to ward off the ghosts of his past and who looks EXACTLY like a cross between Christopher Walken and David Soul.

Maybe he’d have more luck living with his sins if he didn’t spend the whole time walking around looking as guilty as a Michelin-starred chef caught taking delivery of a stack of frozen ready meals. Oh, and if he didn’t keep the mobile line direct to his old IRA muckers in the plant pot in his ministerial office. Just a thought.

With this quasi-intrigue developing in the corridors of power, whilst Meaney’s investigation flounders on the streets beyond, it’s all beginning to feel like a version of State of Play where the Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck characters weren’t old buddies, and had never met before or after. In other words, divested of ALL drama, suspense and interest.

Interest, interest, interest – wherefore dost thou lurk? Not in the subplot involving shady bloodhound Eammon (Patrick Rocks), that’s for sure; that poor sap’s story goes as resolutely nowhere as a stairway to heaven.

No, let’s ignore the prosaic dialogue, the shortcoming of some of the performers (First Minister’s aide-cum-bed bunny, I’m looking at you) and the most feeble riot in screen history, and concentrate instead on the apparent message of the piece: that murder can be justified, or at least those who commit it should be shielded, in the name of a united Ireland with a (relatively) clear political conscience.

It’s a bold ideological statement by director Todd, and suggests that Martin McGuinness should perhaps be at least a little bit wary the next time someone offers him a chip.

A Belfast Story is released in the UK on 20 September

Paul Martin

Paul Martin is a professional writer who lives in Kilburn, north London. Paul Martin is deeply disturbed by the amount of neatly trimmed beards he sees these days, that make the wearers look like Matthew Kelly or a young Kenny Loggins. Paul Martin can occasionally be spotted at @PaulFilmDoom