There is so much to like about Belfast that it seems a sure bet to tally a boatload of Oscar nominations. And I suspect people will love it, if they see it ... one of the most common descriptions of the film in reviews is "crowd-pleaser". Yes, it takes place during The Troubles, and it doesn't shy away from that topic. But it's an autobiographical presentation from writer-director Kenneth Branagh, who was a kid at the time, and so what we see is from the perspective of a nine-year-old. The Troubles are frightening, but they are only vaguely understood by the boy, and the movie is much more a tale of a young lad than it is a political tract.
Branagh deserves accolades for what he pulls off here. The acting is excellent across the board, which to me usually means the director had a strong hand, especially when he also wrote the dialogue. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as the boy's grandparents are perhaps the most obvious candidates for acting Oscars. They are wonderful, but whenever Branagh gets a little too close to the kind of heart-warming that makes a "crowd-pleaser", those grandparents are usually involved. Young Jude Hill is amazing as the boy, and again, I always credit the director when I see a top-notch child performance. That this was Hill's first acting job only adds to my admiration. I'd also mention Caitriona Balfe, who is excellent (and I'm not just saying that because she's the star of Outlander).
The movie looks great. Branagh chose black and white, and it feels right, but the occasional break into color felt like an affectation to me. (My wife thought it was marvelous.) And great use is made of Van Morrison on the soundtrack, although the song you'll be humming when you leave the theater is not Van the Man:
It says more about me than about the movie that I'm hesitant to recommend a film because it's "crowd-pleasing". It's very good ... go see it.