Saoirse Ronan is an Irish actress, but what was surprising is that she actually was born in the Bronx. That combination had to seal the deal for the twenty-one-year old actress to be cast as Eilis (a county Wexford immigrant on her way to 1952 America) in the wonderful new film Brooklyn. That on top of the fact she is one of the more intriguing young talents in the industry.
No matter how old the performer might be, some actors have a way of holding the screen while still not revealing too much. Saoirse Ronan is not a stranger to being part of wonderful, quiet, introspective films. Ronan received an Oscar nomination at the age of 13 for her role in Atonement. In that film she demonstrated such a depth of reflective intelligence and the ability to navigate scenes that involve the character’s complex life that it may have prepared for her best work to date. In Brooklyn, a wonderful adaptation (by Nick Hornby) of Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel, she plays Eilis. Eilis’s life in Ireland seems, at first, to be run by her mother and sister, her village, and her burning desire to leave the shop where she works for a more challenging job. It becomes increasingly obvious she needs to re-center her life so she moves to America in search of her prosperity (a new vocation, a husband, a family of her own).
Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, focuses on the idea of a heart in transit, and in development. Can a person who truly loves her country just pick up and start a new life? Can you find love when the only love that you have known is the love of a family member?
Rose (played by Fiona Glascott), arranges a new life for her sister. Through a local village priest she secures a job abroad, and a room for Eilis in an Irish-run boardinghouse in Brooklyn. Julie Walters is cast as the God-fearing boardinghouse owner, in a brilliant performance. Walters brings depth and complexity to her role as owner of the boardinghouse and “mother” figure to all her girls. She even goes as far as to remind a very provocative tenant that “Giddiness in a woman is worse than slothfulness in a man.”
Jim Broadbent portrays Eilis’ Brooklyn parish priest, who plays a critical role in Brooklyn as not only her connection to her previous life in Ireland but also the reason she meets the man of her dreams. On the weekends, Eilis’s priest runs a very tame dance party in the parish hall and it’s at that party she meets Tony. She begins a relationship with her very Italian-American plumber and she no longer seems to pine for home and now enjoys life as a New Yorker (Whether it’s dates at Coney Island or working at department store on Fulton Street). Eilis even seems to have a certain strut in her step as she walks about town sporting better clothes that are brighter than anything that she would wear if she was back home. Eilis seems to be finding her prosperity. A death interrupts her happiness, however, and she has to sail back to Ireland. The familiarity of being among friends, the surroundings, and an interested suitor (Domhnall Gleeson), who has no clue about Tony, brings Eilis to a breaking point.
Brooklyn is special for so many reasons. First and foremost, Saoirse Ronan’s performance brings so much heart and insecurity to the role Eilis that it’s like we are watching through the window of someone’s life story. Saoirse Ronan received praise for her role in Antonement mostly due to the complexity and the authenticity that she portrayed on screen, and the same is true in Brooklyn. Could history repeat itself and she end up with another Oscar nomination? She certainly has thrust herself into the discussion.
Director John Crowley has really surrounded himself with such a stellar team of individuals that it truly enhanced the quality of Brooklyn overall. Nick Hornby should receive heavy consideration for an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay. Hornby made just enough tweaks to the original source material to enhance the overall quality of the film. At points Hornby went for more a comedic approach (example Julie Walters) and at times he went for a more sentimental approach (example- Tony and Eilis’s first date). Overall, Hornby stepped away just enough from the original source material to develop a stellar script. Speaking of stellar, Yves Belanger does a masterful job with the cinematography in Brooklyn. His shots were so expansive and so deliberate that it truly made the bustling borough of Brooklyn come alive. Don’t be surprised if Crowley and Belanger are nominated in their respective categories.
Overall, Brooklyn is one of the best movies of 2015. It generates a wonderful sort of old-fashioned suspense. How is she going to sort it all out? You won’t find a more deeply satisfying film in 2015.