This heartfelt romantic drama feels like a film from another time.
Sarah Ward
February 11, 2016


UPDATE, March 15, 2021: Brooklyn is available to stream via Netflix, Stan,Google Play, YouTube Movies and iTunes.


From its opening frames, Brooklyn feels like a film from another time. Director John Crowley (Closed Circuit) stays patient as he surveys the life of aspiring Irish bookkeeper Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), and equally unhurried when he follows her to 1950s New York in search of a better life. He watches and waits as she does the same, though the movie doesn't suffer for it. Instead, it becomes a rare effort that knows how long things take to unfold, and isn't in a hurry to rush any moment.

A leisurely sense of timing isn't the film's only old-fashioned flourish — and nor is the gorgeous period look it cultivates, showcasing the intricate work of cinematographer Yves Bélanger and production designer François Séguin. The film version of Colm Tóibín's 2009 novel of the same name, as adapted by author Nick Hornby, also eschews the need for extremes. It still ponders conflicting options, as Eilis is torn between her old and new homes, her past and her future, and between two men who love her. It's just that the movie understands a simple truth that many don't: that, regardless of the choice or conflict, the bulk of reality exists somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps that's why Eilis' tale — struggling to leave her widowed mother (Jane Brennan) and caring sister (Fiona Glascott), seeking states-side assistance from kindly priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), and moving into a Brooklyn boarding house overseen by the strict Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) — always feels so honest and heartfelt. And perhaps that's why it continues to feel genuine as Eilis falls for plumber Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), then finds her love tested when she connects with Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) upon a forced return to Ireland.

Indeed, what appears to be a straightforward romantic drama soon proves much more nuanced and sincere, with the stellar cast also doing their part. The film's determination to take things slowly doesn't just suit the story, but the performers, particularly the sensitive efforts of Ronan. She plays the shy Eilis as someone who feels much but says little, and there's nothing quite as moving as watching her face convey the character's inner turmoil. Cohen and Gleeson, the former previously a standout in The Place Beyond the Pines and the latter popping up in everything from Ex Machina to The Force Awakens to The Revenant, ensure their respective love interests remain more than narrative complications — and that Eilis' fondness for them both is just as thoughtfully realised.

Combine the central trio's textured portrayals with the movie's overwhelmingly bittersweet tone — another outlier in an art form usually obsessed with clear-cut emotions — and Brooklyn becomes a rousing, resonant throwback in the most pleasing and engaging of ways. Here, saying that the film seems much older than it is proves the best kind of compliment.


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