Brooklyn is a film which could have been written, produced, and made during the infamously prudish Hollywood Production Code that Film Studios implemented to stave off government interference. The film is so wholesome, so proudly defending both bold and courageous actions from its heroine, so full of rightness that it seems impossible that it could also be a compelling drama and one of the best films of the year.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Ellis Lacey (pronounced “Aelish”), an intelligent young Irish Woman who leaves her homeland for New York City to work as an accountant thanks to a generous priest from her town who emigrated several years earlier, played by the always delightful Jim Broadbent. A further emphasis needs to be given to how engaging Ms. Ronan’s portrayal of Ellis Lacey is. Her performance makes up half of the screen time of the film and is by far the most interesting and compelling element of Brooklyn.
This isn’t the first impressive performance from Ms. Ronan (Hanna, Atonement, and Byzantium were all anchored by her strong acting ability), but Brooklyn is her first real chance to lead an Epic Romance, a genre Hollywood seems to have abandoned lately. The effect is that Ellis Lacey comes across as a character that is easy to fall in love with, which becomes the driving force of her personal conflict.
Ellis lives in a boarding house with several other single-adult women, who act as the film’s Greek Chorus. There are several scenes set around the dinner table that are downright hilarious, mainly due to excellent chemistry between the women, as well as the impressive comedic chops of Emily Bett Rickards (who some will recognize as Felicity Smoak on The CW’s ever expanding DC Universe lineup).
Ellis adjusts well to Brooklyn life but gets homesick, until she meets a young Italian man (Emory Cohen) at an Irish dance who showers her with earnest affection. Mr. Cohen does a pitch-perfect impression of what we would know today as a “young grandpa,” pants hiked up, calling things “swell,” and acting only a little embarrassed of his family’s strong anti-Irish sentiments (which thankfully act only as comic relief). I recommend anyone who sees Brooklyn to look up press junket interviews with Mr. Cohen to understand how truly special this performance is; he literally becomes a different person when he plays Tony Fiorello. A major strength of the film is the depth of feeling shown during the budding relationship between Ellis and Tony, so having strong actors capable of diving deep into a character is a must.
Another strength of the film is the cinematography work of Yves Bellinger (in combination with excellent coloration), giving Brooklyn a Polaroid photograph look. There isn’t enough room to mention each of the little things that the photography department of Brooklyn did right, but there was an enormous amount of craft put into the look of this film and it shows.
2015 superstar Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant, and Ex Machina weren’t enough apparently) makes a memorable appearance as another potential lover for Ellis who reminds her of the old country. Ms. Ronan and Mr. Gleeson are also an excellent pairing, which helps as often love-triangles are so obvious because of a chemistry imbalance between pairs.
Brooklyn has three excellent performances (two I would deem Oscar-worthy, being Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen), stunning cinematography and color, and an engaging pace devoid of padding and lined with hilarious dinner table scenes. As if those things weren’t enough, what is so great about Brooklyn is that it proves that a compelling, contemporary drama doesn’t have to feature gunfights, bear attacks, or dead children to be a top tier film.
Blurbs the producers of Brooklyn are free to use on the home video release:
“[no] dead children”
“A Top Tier Film”