Directed by: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Old-fashioned storytelling, classic film techniques and unbridled emotion take centre stage in every moment of John Crowley’s Brooklyn, certainly a triumph and breath of fresh air among more recent movies made in the 21st century. Based on the 2009 novel by Colm Toibin, the plot revolves around Eilis Lacey, a young and naïve Irish woman who is sponsored for a job and life in Brooklyn, New York, and the continued internal battle she faces between her hometown and her new home.
As an Irish-born writer himself, Toibin’s narrative of an immigrant’s journey across the Atlantic and struggle making her own life in 1950s America is notable for its authentic and restrained nature; rather than exploring the tired story of post-war immigration inundated with anguish and weakened spirit, Brooklyn shone as a literary accomplishment because of the way it balanced grandeur emotion and quiet real life sensibilities.
Fortunately screenwriter Nick Hornby attempts to embody Toibin’s style in this adaptation, providing a pleasant mix of humour and drama to a suitable extent. Indeed the first and final sections of the film are slower than other parts and express more of the melancholy that the novel was able to articulate. However, the scenes in New York moves at a pace that coincides with Eilis’ love affair with Italian Tony Fiorello, allowing the audience to delve deeper into the relationship brewing between the two young adults.
With a headstrong performance by the outstanding Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, Brooklyn deviates from the story of a damsel in distress in a foreign land to one about a bright and open young woman making a life for herself in one of the most isolating cities in the world. Sadly at times the story veers into cliché and formula, but its authenticity is retained through Ronan’s fierce acting ability and her strong hold of the character on screen, playing up warmth and uncertainty.
Supporting performers are also exquisite, with Julie Walters playing the hilarious matron of the boarding house Eilis lives at in Brooklyn in a small role, but one that should have provided her with a Best Supporting Actress nomination at all film awards this year. Emory Cohen plays a decent Tony and his acting ability has certainly improved since his appearance on NBC TV’s Smash. Fiona Glascott’s smaller performance as Rose Lacey is also noteworthy, whilst Domhall Gleeson’s depiction of Irish native Jim Farrell steers clear of “the other man” trope and entrances viewers as Eilis is captivated.
What makes Brooklyn such an incredible and unforgettable journey is how the writing by Hornby and directing by Crowley have made the tale of a single immigrant a universal and accessible story. Not to say that the film lacks details in its story nor that its straightforward story is boring, but rather than the battle between secure upbringing and seizes opportunities out of one’s comfort zone is a collective one.
Amongst some of the bigger hits and more box office blockbusters, Brooklyn may suffer from lack of viewers because of its unknown plot and unrecognisable actors, many assuming its old fashioned and understated storytelling seen in previews equal a tired and simple story without any impact. But, simply put, Brooklyn is an outstanding achievement of film that is beautiful, emotional and captivating.