Not Starring Cillian Murphy
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Flushed with pastel dust and cobalt skies, director John Crowley’s Brooklyn is swathed in a cinder-like charm. There is hardly a moment when the film doesn’t feel pastoral, wide, and free of boundaries. Most of this is due, of course, to Saoirse Ronan’s inherent kindness and verisimilitude. The actress, who has recently appeared in a few clunkers since her incendiary turn in Joe Wright’s Hanna, is finally in the right hands with one of Ireland’s best directors, Crowley. From the teeth gnashing aggression in Intermission to the existential psychoanalytic thriller in Boy A, the 46-year-old auteur has had his hands in testosterone peppered films. Here, however, he opens his palms to a sensible period drama. In what would be classified as a departure, Crowley masters the medium of poetic and restrained filmmaking, creating a warm and colorful world of doe-eyed freedom in 1950s Brooklyn.
The tale, adapted from the Colm Tóibín book of the same name, follows the coy but reverent Eilis Lacey (Ronan) as she immigrates to New York from Ireland. From the capricious boat ride to America to the prefabricated haughtiness of stateside department stores, we are witness to Eilis’ cultural confusion. Brooklyn is daubed with technicolor prowess, giving everything from the dresses to the buildings a mushroom cloud appearance of awe and modernity. Crowley presses hard on his brush strokes, but makes sure of their resonance and meaning. Though he is adept at unearthing a forgotten landscape, partially erected out of revisionist literary tales of wonderment, Ronan does most of the work with her wit, candor, and affection for the source material. Brooklyn relies on the actresses’ tics and tones – and she rewards the crew for their trust. This very well may be the best female performance of the year, from the cerulean probity in Ronan’s eyes to the way in which she reacts to her surroundings.
There are some hiccups, including lead-footed pacing and a brutally maudlin score, but neither of those issues derail Brooklyn from its ethereal place as one of the best pictures of the year. After the interminable disappointments that were The Host, How I Live Now, and Violet & Daisy, Ronan is in her element with a fellow Irish talent that is as great as she is. As contemporary Brie Larson said, ever so hilariously, “the only explanation for Saoirse Ronan is that she’s a real life angel.”