“At first, you’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die. Then one day, the sun will come out. You’ll catch yourself thinking about something that has no connection with the past, and you’ll realize this is your life.”
This line, spoken by Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan of Atonement and The Lovely Bones) sums up director John Crowley’s new film Brooklyn perfectly. Ronan is spectacular, as is the rest of the cast. The cinematography is beautiful, and the film is worth watching for the gorgeous shots of the Irish countryside alone. Based on a novel by Irish author Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn will undoubtedly see some nominations in the upcoming awards season.
The film is about a young woman named Eilis Lacey who lives in Ireland with her mother (Jane Brennan) and older sister Rose (played by Fiona Glascott) in the early 1950s. While Eilis loves her family, she is ready to do something bigger with her life, so with the help of a priest in New York (always excellent Jim Broadbent), she packs up her things and takes a ship to Brooklyn. Eilis moves into a boarding house with several other young women and landlady Mrs. Kehoe (played by Julie Walters, who provides some of the biggest laughs in the often dreary film), and she begins working at fictional department store Bartocci’s while taking night classes in hopes of becoming an accountant. Soon at a local dance, she meets and falls in love with Tony (played by Emory Cohen), a second-generation Italian who lives in an apartment with his parents and brothers.
Soon, circumstances force Eilis to return to Ireland for a month, where she meets a charming local barkeeper and friend of the family Jim Farrell (played by Domhnall Gleeson, who can consider 2015 a breakout year, as he also starred in the sleeper hit Ex Machina and the upcoming Alejandro González Iñárritu film The Revenant). Eilis now must decide whether she should stay in Ireland and live a quiet life she never saw herself living, or to move back to Brooklyn and be with Tony and pursue a career that only New York can offer her.
I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating that the acting in Brooklyn is absolutely phenomenal. Much of this credit goes to the director John Crowley. Crowley clearly has a way with actors, as can be seen in several of his other films, including the powerful 2007 film Boy A, which starred a then-unknown Andrew Garfield (from The Amazing Spider-Man and The Social Network) in likely his best performance to date. It does not hurt that in this film, Crowley is working with some of the best actors (young and old) in the business today. Saoirse Ronan, who first made a name for herself when she was nominated for an Academy Award at the age of 13 for her portrayal of Briony in Atonement, is flawless in this film. She is able to play the subtlest of emotions. Scenes of her missing home, scenes of her falling in love, scenes of her struggling to connect in an unfamiliar place. She hits every note perfectly. The rest of the supporting cast shines as well, filling in the world of the film and giving a complete sense of authenticity.
In addition to the acting and direction, the cinematography from Yves Bélanger is stunning. Bélanger, who has shot films like Wild and The Dallas Buyers Club, does an excellent job showing the stark contrast between the dim, yet bustling Brooklyn and the hauntingly beautiful, yet slow-paced Ireland. One example of this can be seen in the way two beach scenes are photographed. One scene takes place between Eilis and Tony on Coney Island—many people, bright colors everywhere, warm amber light shining down on the water. The other takes place on a beautiful and quiet beach in Ireland, not a soul to be seen aside from Eilis, Jim Farrell, and their two dear friends. The mood is calm and blue. The only link between the two scenes is Eilis’ green bathing suit, connecting these two otherwise distant lands.
Brooklyn is hopeful and at the same time heartbreaking. Beautiful and at the same time terrifying. Saoirse Ronan will almost certainly receive an Oscar nomination, as will director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby. And keep an eye out for a Christmas dinner scene—one of the most beautiful renditions of the Irish ballad Casadh An tSugain is performed by Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird. It will stay with you. See Brooklyn in the theaters if you can. It is one of the finest films of 2015.