Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Crowley
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Jane Brennan, Brid Brennan, Fiona Glascott.
Set in the 1950s, this Oscar nominated romantic story exploring one woman’s experience of the post-war immigration to America is also a sweet love story and coming of age tale.
Eilis Lacey (played by Saoirse Ronan) is an introspective, sensitive and somewhat naive young Irish girl who leaves her small, claustrophobic village and goes to Brooklyn for work and a new life. She leaves behind the insular world of vicious gossip and small minds, only to find herself struggling to adjust to life in the more impersonal and multi-cultural city of Brooklyn. The film explores her attempts to adjust to a new life in a new country and that sense of isolation she initially feels.
She finds accommodation in a boarding house run by the acerbic Mrs Keogh (played by Julie Walters), who cares for a number of other young Irish girls in similar circumstances. But Eilis also feels lonely and homesick, and finds the cultural shift a little unsettling at first.
With the help of the avuncular and kindly priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) Eilis also finds employment in a large department store. And she finds love with Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a charismatic young plumber from an Italian-American family, and soon her life is looking up. But then a tragedy sends her back home to Ireland, where she is introduced to the personable and attractive Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). Her well meaning mother (Jane Brennan) thinks that they make a lovely couple and encourages the romance. Soon Eilis has to make a choice between her life in Brooklyn with Tony or a life in Ireland with Jim.
Brooklyn is a modest little romantic drama that explores some universal themes and looks at the immigrant experience from a female perspective. Recently we also saw another story about the female immigrant experience to America with The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard, but that film had a darker edge to it. The second half of this film after Eilis returns home to Ireland is tonally different from the early scenes and lacks that sense of optimism. And Hornby has changed the ending of the novel for dramatic purposes.
Based on the prize winning 2009 novel written by Irish author Colm Toibin, Brooklyn has been adapted to the screen by British author Nick Hornby (better known for High Fidelity, About A Boy, etc), and his script is intelligent, sensitive and well written and steps away from some of the darker elements of the source material.
This is also a story about choices. As a romantic tale it is also far more compelling than the recent The Choice, a rather bland romance from the pen of prolific author Nicholas Sparks. Brooklyn is a sweet and sentimental tear jerker without becoming schmaltzy, but it is also a little old fashioned in style and bit predictable.
The director is John Crowley, a former playwright turned filmmaker whose credits include Boy A, the thriller Closed Circuit and a couple of episodes of tv series True Detective. He handles the material with subtlety and sensitivity and restraint, suffuses the film with a bittersweet tone.
The film captures the look and feel of the 50s, with Francois Sequin’s production design reeking of authenticity. French-Canadian cinematographer Yves Belanger (The Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, etc) also captures the look and feel of the 50s, shooting in soft hues.
But the real strength of the film is the assured and commanding performance from Ronan, who has matured as an actress since we first saw her in her breakout role in Atonement a decade ago. This is a complex performance as she charts Eilis’ growth and maturity with ease, and this is easily her best performance.
In his biggest screen role to date, Cohen (from the tv series Smash, etc) brings plenty of swagger to his performance that will remind audiences of the late James Dean or early Brando. The very busy Gleeson (currently in the box office juggernaut that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, etc) is sympathetic as Jim. And Walters is hilarious, and steals scenes with her superb performance as the strict and sharp tongued Mrs Keogh. She thoroughly deserves her Oscar nomination here.