Sunday, December 13, 2015
Brooklyn (Limited Release Date: 11-4-2015)
Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis, a young woman living in the Irish countryside in the 1950's who wants more out of life than to merely serve at the local shop. With the help of her sister and a few church higher-ups, Eilis secures a position in a boarding house in Brooklyn, as well as a gig at a city department store. It's not long after her oceanic journey that homesickness sets in, with an entire world swirling around her at twice the speed to which she'd become acclimated, letters from home taking eons to arrive. A glimmer of hope shows itself in the form of a suitor, an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) with a surplus of charm, patience, and flattery to his name. The vast expanse of New York and America at large is only starting to make sense when word from overseas requires Eilis to return home, and in the process casts doubt upon just where home really is anymore.
Like its fellow Best Picture aspirant Spotlight, Brooklyn is nothing if not basic. No cameras zoom around with kinetic zest, no character is revealed to have secret devious motives, and the edits all come at a steady, unglamorous pace. What director John Crowley's movie does have, however, is class, one of the hardest things for a film to attain without becoming stale or overly familiar. It bares the stately, wholesome worldview shared by many of the films released in the era it attempts to recreate, finding beauty in simple framing, and subtle narrative shifts. Crowley's in perfect lockstep with Nick Hornby, the famed author of the books behind the movies High Fidelity and About a Boy who's really made a name for himself as a screen writer in the last handful of years, having been the pen behind both An Education and Wild. His script is wistful, romantic, and filled with soul, never overstepping the boundary into sappiness, leaving Crowley and (more importantly) the actors enough space to leave equally indelible marks on the story.
And leave marks they do. The aforementioned Emory would come off as smarmy if his performance wasn't so delicate, and Jim Broadbent brings an almost angelic quality to his miniature role as Eilis' stoic guardian, Father Flood. The people who color in the margins are uniformly strong, but this is a true coming out party for Ronan. Her character's nervous energy and soft-spoken nature disallow anything showy from of her performance, and the Oscar nominee is up to the task, conveying wells of emotion and contemplation with the subtlest of gestures. The movie at large is similarly in love with her work, cinematographer Yves Bélanger constantly honing in on her face, enamored with every smile and glance. Ronan has had several winners to her name ever since her coming out party in 2007's Atonement, but Brooklyn announces her graduation from child actor to one of the world's premiere English-speaking thespians.
The specificity of her performance is worth the price of admission, but Crowley isn't satisfied to rest on his laurels. Brooklyn is the movie that takes place after all the ones we've already seen; after Will Hunting goes to see about a girl, and after Ben Braddock gets on that bus with Elaine Robinson. Rather than focus on the courage and consideration that inspired her initial move, it captures the feeling of being a little person in a big, bright world, and the terror of being so far removed from everything you've ever known and loved. It's a frightening existence that technology has largely hidden from the modern world, but somehow Ronan, Crowley, and crew know how to take you back to that place, and make you feel the miles of salt water that separate one home from another. I can't even imagine how affecting it would be to someone who had lived through the era which the film depicts; it did a number on me as is.