Directed by: John Crowley
Produced by: Finola Dwyer
Screenplay by: Nick Hornby
Based on: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Starring: Saoirse Ronan
Music by: Michael Brook
Cinematography by: Yves Belanger
Editing by: Jake Roberts
Item 7 Inc
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States)
20th Century Fox (International)
TSG Entertainment/Lionsgate (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): January 6, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival)
November 6, 2015 (United Kingdom & Ireland)
November 25, 2015 (United States)
Running time: 112 minutes
Country(s): United Kingdom
Production budget: $11 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $49, 145, 539
Today's film up for review is Brooklyn, an historical period drama which is up for three Oscars, namely Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay this Sunday. Written by Nick Hornby and based upon the Colm Toibin novel of the same name, it stars Saoirse Ronan in the lead role of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Enniscorthy in County Wexford, whose sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for her to find a better future in the United States, immigrating to Brooklyn and getting work and accommodation by way of her sponsor, the priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Staying in the boarding house of Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters), the homesick Eilis aspires to better things than her department store job and is enrolled in bookkeeping classes, and at a dance meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian-American man who falls for her and becomes her boyfriend. Got it? Good!
I didn't want to get too much into the whole plot synopsis thing too much because if I had to explain it all I would end up spoiling important plot spoilers, so you'll have to excuse me if I, on occasion, sound vague as I wax lyrical. And wax lyrical, indeed I will, because I loved Brooklyn. On the surface, this is the kind of film I'd normally dislike or dismiss as Oscar-bait were it not for the fact that the film is so sincere and genuine that I can't not think of it in highly favourable terms. For starters, it boasts an excellent lead performance from Saoirse Ronan. Ronan has come a long way from getting an Oscar nod at the age of thirteen in Joe Wright's Atonement, and one can't help but see in the emotional development in the character of Eilis a reflection of the growing talent of the young actor. Over time, Ronan has gained the experience and wisdom of someone twice her age, so that over the course of Brooklyn, Eilis' arc is expressed with great subtlety. It's not like all of a sudden a switch is flipped and she's a completely different person, but in much the same way as is true to life, Ronan, an actor who make the smallest inflections entirely meaningful and significant, inflects Eilis with real tact as we watch the drama unfold, the girl becoming a woman. It's a masterclass in acting; Ronan is fully deserving of the praise, and I hope she has a bright and promising future in the film world. Anywho, enough gushing about Saoirse Ronan, because even though by no means do any of the other performers stand out the way Ronan's Eilis does, the fact remains is that there are a number of solid supporting performances in the film. The three I mentioned, Cohen, Broadbent and especially Walters (whose Mrs. Kehoe is hilarious), are all good, but so also are Domhnall Gleeson (who's good in everything this year), Brid Brennan, Jessica Pare, and right down to the smaller bit-parts, the ensemble is of a largely positive nature. Part of that of course can be attributed to the deftness of Nick Hornby's screenplay. Hornby as a writer has the ability to construct believable and sympathetic characters, but also to have them appropriately fit the world in which they inhabit. Eilis Lacey's journey begins in 1952, and as such the character is designed to fit appropriately with her setting and her background. The same can be said of the other characters, such as Tony, whose Italian background makes for an interesting case of 'mixing the colours,' as it were. This is also helped by Hornby's keen ear for dialogue and the little idiosyncrasies that people have over the course of a conversation. It ensures that there is a sense of authenticity about the characters (I flagged up Mrs. Kehoe because I've seen people like her in my lifetime) while continuing to move the plot forward. Speaking of period, I have to credit the costume, make-up/hair and production design departments, for their successful re-creation of not only early-1950s Brooklyn but also of Enniscorthy in Wexford. Don't get wrong, I'm sure some of the locations (particularly those in Ireland) probably don't need much doing up, but as a whole the film had a look that suggested that it was not only appropriate for the time but that there was an air of nostalgia about them, like looking back on old photographs of your relatives from generations past. Another aspect of the film I liked was the use of traditional Irish music as a means of classical film composition. It makes sense, given that it is a film very much with Irish themes, but it's a testament to Michael Brook's skill as a composer and producer that he is able to weave this flavour into an evocative score which is designed in it's own way to abide by classical film composition techniques. What sets it apart though is how it avoids telling us too much about how we should be feeling at a given time. That balance, which is kept from tipping over on the tightrope by director John Crowley, is what sets Brooklyn apart from many other Oscar-nominated period dramas. To speak from a personal standpoint, I have many relatives of my own who went from the same experiences of immigrating in the 1950s from Ireland to New York, including my grandparents, both of whom met each other and married while living in the United States. So, I brought that personal context to the film, plus the fact that generally I'm not a fan of Oscar-bait period dramas or these kinds of films that usually take up the space of something of greater quality and/or significance. However, Crowley ensures that the film never tips over, and remains on the right side of sentimental, and the fact is is that the film is so genuine, so sincere, and quite lovely I can't not like it. There's a real warmth and geniality about Brooklyn, and I think it's one of the best films of 2015.
Now, it's been two months since I've seen the film, so I've had a good bit more time to think about it than I might have under different circumstances over the past year. A couple of months ago, I thought that this film was a masterpiece. However, I have seen it again since, and I have to say that while it holds up, I don't feel that it's a masterwork. It comes close, but doesn't quite cross over, and I'll tell you why. It's along the same lines of my opines regarding Carol, in that my problems come down to feeling over anything particularly 'wrong' with the film. The fact remains is that while I loved Brooklyn and it's done rather well, it is still a fairly cliched story which we have seen done before in many different incarnations, most notably as regards to certain plot points and details. Furthermore, and more detracting from my overall opinion, is that it doesn't contribute anything really new or groundbreaking to the romantic film genre (yes, the film is also about romance, in case you haven't gathered!). Take for instance the brilliance of the 'romance' in Robert Altman's 1971 western masterpiece, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. What Altman does, as with many of his films in the 1970s, is take a tried and tested genre, play off of them and put a completely revisionist spin on them. Thus, what he does with the plot featuring the titular characters, though in essence it remains cliche, becomes something new entirely. The same, unfortunately (and I mean that!), cannot be said of Brooklyn.
Despite my trepidations as regards Brooklyn being a cliche film that doesn't offer anything particularly new to the fold, it's still a great film, one of the best of 2015 in fact. It is bolstered by a tremendous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan, a deft screenplay from Nick Hornby, a well-realised mise-en-scene, skilful composition from Michael Brook's and balanced direction from John Crowley. Brooklyn is a sincere and genuine picture that overcomes any of my initial excess baggage and is an emotionally honest work of great craft.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.9/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pissed