WRITTEN REVIEW – Brooklyn (2015)

Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent & Domhnall Gleeson
Music: Michael Brook
Certificate: 12A

Saoirse Ronan has had one of the most eclectic careers for an actor in recent memory. Despite only being 21 years old at time of writing, Ronan is an Academy Award nominee (‘Atonement‘), a proven action-star (‘Hanna‘), arthouse actor (‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘), capable dramatic actor (‘This Is How I Live Now‘), Horror actor (‘Byzantium‘) and is one of the rare actors who was the lead role of a bad young-adult movie and didn’t have her career destroyed (‘The Host‘).

Now she’s leading a movie and teaming up with director acclaimed director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby in an adaptation of the Colm Tóibín book ‘Brooklyn‘. Co-funded by the Irish Film Board and BBC Films, ‘Brooklyn‘ is a result of the ever-growing Irish Film Industry and boasts a great supporting cast comprised of Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson but with a period romance movie, ‘Brooklyn‘ will need to rely on its writing and lead performance to truly work. Thankfully, the end result is not only an unprecedented home-run for the Irish Film Industry but possibly one of the very best movies of 2015.
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Set in the 1950s, ‘Brooklyn‘ follows Eilis (Ronan); a young Irish girl who works at a small shop and is wasting her considerable potential. Her sister and church are able to organise transport and accommodation for her in Brooklyn, New York in order to start a new life but she gets incredibly home sick and must write letters to her family back home. However in Brooklyn, she falls in love with a young Italian-American named Tony (Cohen) and starts to find solace in her new life away from home. But a family death back in Ireland forces her to return as well as finding a potential new love in rich bachelor Jim (Gleeson). Eilis must decide whether to stay in Brooklyn or go back to Ireland and find out where her heart truly lies.

While the trailers for ‘Brooklyn‘ have sold it as a sweeping, romantic melodrama, what works best about the movie is its sheer quiet confidence. ‘Brooklyn‘ is a very intimate, slow-burn movie where the emotions are big but rarely external. Its story is not showy, or flashy and it’s a character-piece revolving around a singular individual that also happens to have a capable supporting cast. There’s not a lot of plot to speak of as most of the movie is driven by numerous conversation sequences that allow the audience to get to know these characters as real people.
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Brooklyn‘ is one of those rare movies where every single speaking character feels fleshed out. You only need to spend around 10-15 seconds with a supporting cast member and you feel like you already know them. From the way they act, the way they dress, their first lines of dialogue and how they respond to certain people, Nick Hornby’s script is so well detailed and nuanced that there’s not a single character that isn’t memorable or endearing in some way. Whether it’s the warm and caring Father Flood played by Jim Broadbend who helps Eilis settle into Brooklyn, or Dolores Grace played by Jenn Murray who is one of the young women at the Brooklyn boarding house with Eilis who possibly gets the funniest line in the movie, ‘Brooklyn‘ is full of humanised characters.

But ‘Brooklyn‘ is mainly the Saoirse Ronan show and thankfully she’s brilliant enough of an actor to carry the entire movie. Ronan is in almost every single scene of the movie and she doesn’t miss a beat in playing a character that she is perfectly cast for. Visually, Ronan is able to portray a character who is transitioning into adulthood, but she is still able to exude a powerful dramatic presence when necessary. It’s a deeply emotional performance with Eilis pretty much running the gamut of life-experiences during the 112 minute movie but it’s not a showy performance, if that makes any sense. Ronan is not playing a fierce leader, or a character with a disability or someone with a disadvantage (other than trying to overcome and understand her own self-worth) which means that she probably won’t get talked about in the lead-up to awards-season, but make no mistake; Ronan is the absolute real-deal and if she continues on this career path we could have the next Meryl Streep.
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Like I said before, the rest of the actors don’t put a foot wrong. Emory Cohen plays Eilis’ boyfriend in Brooklyn and he’s charismatic but a bit embarrassed about his family and profession, he has personal insecurities and considers baseball to be his true love. See what I mean about each character being incredibly detailed? Cohen’s soft-spoken delivery helps to make the character come to life and bring along some additional depth and one of the best scenes of the movie has him open up to his younger brother played by the incredibly funny James DiGiacomo. Also, despite his presence in the marketing, Domhnall Gleeson’s actually comes into the movie rather late but still manages to win over the audience with a sincere charm.

Julie Walters is another stand-out playing a very funny, but multi-dimensional character as the owner of the boarding house where many other young Irish immigrants are staying. Some of the best scenes of the movie simply involve her, Eilis and four other women just eating a meal and talking with each other, so riveting are the performances and the dialogue exchanged.
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But, once again, it just comes down to how Eilis is characterised and how she evolves over the course of the movie into the woman she doesn’t seem to think she is capable of being (the end of the movie is just PERFECT, incidentally). The subtle contrasts that develop and repeat themselves over the course of the movie and the way she responds and treats certain characters gives ‘Brooklyn‘ plenty of depth and rewatch value while also not treating Eilis as a mary-sue archetype. She has flaws, weaknesses, good days and bad days and it’s all in service of her trying to find out where she belongs even when the temptation of the life she had before rears its head due to her home-town in Ireland seemingly conspiring to have her back. Especially how, despite there being two love interests, ‘Brooklyn‘ does not descend into a conventional “love-triangle” story and beautifully subverts the cliché into something very meaningful and true to its own intentions.

Oh and there’s also a scene where Eilis has to poop in a bucket.
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If the screenplay has anything in terms of flaws, it’s two-fold and both of them involve Eilis coming back home to Ireland due to a family death. Who was the family member? I couldn’t tell you. While watching the movie, I had no idea whose funeral was being attended and how they were related to Eilis and I could tell I wasn’t the only person in my screening confused (my screening was mostly comprised of much older people who were very chatty, so I heard their confusion). And the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Eilis to finally make her decision as to whether she goes back to Brooklyn or stays in Ireland felt a bit too subdued and internal for what was meant to be the emotional climax of the movie. There’s not a lot for the audience to garner in terms of her reasoning for her decision though, to be fair, the scene mainly works because Saoirse Ronan single-handedly manages to shift the entire dynamic of the scene in question solely through her performance. But these two minor issues didn’t do much to detract from just how charming, effective and moving the whole movie turns out to be.
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It’s also a great piece of low-budget filmmaking. It’s clearly a smarty designed movie with a lot of pre-production work and planning on display. You get the sense that ‘Brooklyn‘ has been story-boarded to death, but in the best way possible as the edits and cuts are cleverly done with thought and purpose while also having great camera/shot placement. There’s a lot of smart cinematography in ‘Brooklyn‘ that give its audience a lot of credit, for example there’s a shot where Eilis is in a classroom and it’s a wide shot of her and everyone in the class. The camera doesn’t draw attention to the fact that Eilis is the only woman, it’s something for the audience to pick up on.

The colours are vibrant, the costumes are brilliant and are further used to establish character while also being varied enough so you can easily spot the actors in crowd-shots as well as quickly tell who is who. The borough of Brooklyn looks well-populated and full of charm while clashing with the hum-drum Irish town Eilis comes from (though Ireland DOES have its own gorgeous vistas so it’s not so one-sided) and there’s lots of detailed set-dressing that bring the environments to life. Make-up and hair is on-point, the 1950s period detail is exquisite and the score by Michael Brook is just as understated and effective as the screenplay is, almost akin to his score in the similarly low-key ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘ from 2o12.
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Brooklyn‘ is an unexpected, shining gem of a movie that’s strengths lie in its subtlety and detail. It’s an understated movie which will probably cause it to fly under the radar come awards-season but, make no mistake, ‘Brooklyn‘ is easily one of the best dramas of the year. It’s a magnificent collaborative effort from John Crowley who directs the hell out of the movie, Nick Hornby delivering possibly the most nuanced screenplay of his career, Saorise Ronan continuing to exceed already high expectations and a production team who bring 1950s New York and Ireland to life with startling clarity. It’s quiet but immeasurably confident in its ability to tell an incredibly low-key and personal story and it’s an absolute joy that feels emotionally sincere and true.

I give ‘Brooklyn‘ 5 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 9th Nov 15