A Belfast Story begins like an Irish version of Seven as seasoned local detective Colm Meaney is called to the scene of a grim nail-bomb murder in a dark, bomb-blackened bedroom- the victim, a former IRA man.
It signals the beginning of a series of killings of former IRA terrorists, most happily retired, enjoying their last few years on the sofa in front of the telly and believing the days when a guy in a balaclava might come to call are far gone.
Meaney, wiped out and on the verge of retirement, is given rookie cop Damien to work with, except the latter is actually keeping a close eye on him for a Chief Constable who has his own agenda for slowing down progress on the investigation. Meaney, a wonderful actor, does a decent attempt with the Belfast accent but struggles with appalling lines.
Unfortunately, you see, this movie is toe-curlingly awful. It’s full of tired clichés and embarrassing sound-bites (Meaney’s detective tells a colleague at one point that he deals “in corpses, not in causes”, while a former IRA man, snoozing in front of the telly is woken from his reveries by the doorbell and reaches for his gun before releasing it’s not his TV remote.)
But most disturbing of all is that Nathan Todd, the director of this strikingly poor piece of filmmaking, is Irish. His lack of sensitivity to recent politics and hackneyed view of Belfast and its inhabitants (for the most part the real Belfast does not resemble a war zone and not every male citizen is a heavy-handed psychopath-in-the-making).
It’s also very amateur, apart from Meaney’s central performance, with acting which wouldn’t be accepted in Hollyoaks, and lighting so unforgiving that you nearly want to reach for your sunglasses. One set-piece, involving a poisoned fish supper from the local chipper, is so bad it’s good – if you’re not snorting with laughter at this stage, there’s something wrong with you.
Apparently, this film was boycotted by a lot of English and Irish reviewers as one of the original press packs sent out included a balaclava, duct tape and nails. Todd not only shot himself in the foot (no pun intended) by acting like a civil war was just an episode from a bad thriller, but instantly alienated himself from reviewers who hoped for an intelligent vision of a city recovering from its past.
Thankfully, this particular Belfast story is so risible that it’s doubtful the Northern Ireland Tourist Board or anyone else for that matter will be too upset by it. Nathan Todd was attempting a serial-killer movie (one imagines), but if this is all he can come up with, he should quit while he’s ahead.