Saoirse Ronan has quietly put together a fine acting career. For almost ten years she has steadily delivered one good performance after another. In 2007 she became one of the youngest actresses to ever receive an Academy Award nomination. But what is truly surprising is the fact that Ronan is only 21 years-old and with each new film she continues to mature as an actress. That has never been more evident than in her new picture “Brooklyn”.
This beautiful period drama is from director John Crowley and scripted by Nick Hornby. It’s based on Colm Tóibín’s novel about a quiet Irish girl given an opportunity to make a better life for herself overseas in 1952 Brooklyn, New York. There is nothing cagey or complex about the story, but it’s simplicity is part of its charm and it works mainly due to a captivating lead performance.
Ronan plays Eilis, an Irish girl whose life is dictated by the people and practices in her County Wexford village. She’s quiet and cordial even when working for her cuss of a boss at a local general store. Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glasscott) knows there is nothing for Eilis in the village so with the help of a priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent in a superb bit of casting), she arranges for Eilise to travel to New York to create a new and better life for herself.
There is one key thing I appreciate about the story itself and Crowley’s direction. There are several opportunities for the movie to wander down a conventional and cliché path. When Eilise first arrives in Brooklyn she is clearly in a new world. But it doesn’t turn into your standard ‘fish out of water’ story. Her struggles, her loneliness, her homesickness – it is all handled and presented in a way that is thoughtful and genuine. But most importantly it serves the character without drowning the audience in overwrought depictions of her circumstances.
Her struggles ease a bit when she meets a nice, hard-working Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). Again, the movie could have ventured off into a number of directions including the predictable Irish/Italian relationship complications. Thankfully it does not. That’s not the story it wants to tell. Instead it unfolds into a sweet love story that allows us to see a number of new sides to Eilise. She becomes more comfortable and more confident. The longing for home slowly subsides and takes on a new form. We see a new and different young woman.
The idea of ‘home’ becomes one of the film’s central themes. Eilise is faced with a predicament that causes her to question where her true home is. Other people have no problems defining ‘home’ for her. The question becomes will she throw aside her newly found self-confidence to once again allow her life to be determined by the wishes of others? Or will she take the reins and define her ‘home’ and her life for herself?
“Brooklyn” maneuvers through a minefield of too much melodrama and sentimentality at times coming dangerously close to both. But it never overdoes it. Instead it focuses on its main character and everything works towards telling her story. And it is a lovely story. There is a rhythmic beauty to the storytelling and Crowley’s camera helps convey it. There are so many gorgeous shots that stuck with me well after the movie was over.
While the story is sweet and alluring and the film looks fantastic, this is mainly a sparkling showcase for Saoirse Ronan. I don’t know if there was a more sublimely expressive or emotionally earnest performance this year. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role any better and Ronan deserves all the attention that is certain to come her way. This is her movie and she makes it one of the year’s finest.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Wonderful review! I heard so many good things about the movie but just from the stills the costumes look inedible. So glad Saoirse is getting so many accolades for this, she seems like a nice person and she was wonderful in everything I saw her in
Thanks! You really need to see this one. Yet another big December surprise. Ronan is simply superb. Definitely deserving of the awards attention.
Nice job, Keith. I’m half way through reading the book now, and then I’ll watch the film. I’ve loved Saoirse since Atonement and Hanna. She’s really only 21? Wow. What a powerhouse and a wonderful actress for a new generation!
You are so right Cindy. I really liked her too but this performance catapults her among the very best in my book. Cindy this is such a natural performance. Not a single false moment. I was blown away. Hopefully you’ll get to check it out soon. How is the book?
Good. Shes on the boat on the,way over to Brooklyn….
Nice. I can see myself diving into that one.
Seriously can’t wait to get my hands on this one. Ronan is wonderful and your review is great, man!
Thanks Ryan. Not quite a horror picture. 😉
Seriously though, I think you’ll love this thing. Such a wonderful old-fashioned bit of cinema.
I don’t know what this is? Never heard of it. Wake me up when you decide to review something good that people have heard of.
Look old man, your the guys who yelled me out because I didn’t give From Justin to Kelly five stars!
I think I’m finally going to get around to seeing this next Monday or Tuesday. I am getting pretty excited, and this fine review definitely makes me more so. I knew Ronan was quite a young up-and-comer but I didn’t know she was THAT young. wow Good for her
I was the same way. 21 years-old? That blew my mind. It just seems as though she has been around doing good work for so long. This is definitely a bigger step up for her. Brilliant performance.
As for the film itself, I love the way it presents Ronan’s character and her subtle transformation. It doesn’t do anything particularly grand. It just moves along with such narrative harmony. So good.
I just saw this today and fell in love with it. Couldn’t have said any of this better myself, Keith! Saoirse Ronan is incredible.
Isn’t it great? It’s just great, simple, old-fashioned storytelling. Just give a great actress a smart and confident script and let her go. But didn’t you also find it to be beautifully shot? The wonderful vibrant colors. I noticed they particularly shined when she was her most confident and happy.
Wow its getting so many great reviews!
Man it’s pretty fantastic. Doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Just tells a good story and leans on a phenomenal lead performance. Check it out.
Such a sweet, old fashioned film. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Yep, I absolutely loved it. On the surface it looks pretty basic but if you dig down a bit you see the film doing some really interesting things. Big, big fan of this one.
Lovely write-up Keith. I can’t wait to see this one.
Thank you! It is well worth seeing. A favorite of mine for the year and one of the best performances as well. Hope you get to see it soon.
Glad you’ve seen this Keith; I enjoyed it a lot although it’s not quite up there with my favourites of the year. Anyway, regardless of that, I agree that Ronan is pretty good and I also liked the simplicity (or rather straightforwardness) of the story and Crowley’s direction. It’s not an attention-grabbing film by any means but it’s confident, mature and thoughtful.
Yep I really loved it. There is a sweet classical style to the filmmaking and storytelling that I loved. And I really thought Ronan knocked it out of the park.
Yeah, very good, and like you said she is improving every year. Still so young, too. Not the Oscar winner for me, based on what I’ve seen, but I’m sure she’ll get a nomination.
I’m still tossing her around in that Best Actress category. Definitely hope she gets nominated (pretty sure she will). I haven’t landed on her as my preferred winner yet…yet.
I miss your review over the weekend Keith. I LOVE Brooklyn, I listed this as my #1 pick from TCFF and will likely end up in my final top 10. Glad you love this too!
I thought it was fantastic! Ronan blew me away. I’ve always liked her but this performance is on an entirely different level. And I loved the story. Latched onto it right from the start. Think she’ll have a chance with the other Oscar heavyweights.
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Excellent review, this sounds like a very lovely movie.
A must see Vinnie. It’s mainly being spoken of as a sweet little romance and it is. But it’s also a story about a young woman’s liberation. Breaking out to become her own woman. I just loved it.
IT sounds like a spellbinding movie that would be something I’d appreciate.