Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis in the new film Brookyln, an adaptation of the acclaimed Colm Toibin novel. Eilis is a young Irish woman of some skill living in the 1950s. She is quick to learn and eager to do so. Her native land offers little in the way of opportunity for such a person. With the help of her elder sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), Eilis is able to secure a residence and home in the United States, a new world that comes with strings attached. Eilis will not know a soul, plus she leaves Rose to be their mother Mary’s (Jane Brennan) only touchstone. With hesitation and hope in her heart, Eilis makes the move.
So begins Brooklyn, a film of grace, humor, melancholy and romance that is utterly bewitching. Sitting for the movie’s 111 minutes was one of the true joys of the year. Hell, the decade. There is such a bounty of treasures to praise; it is difficult to know where to begin. Director John Crowley seems a good a place as any. Crowley is no newcomer, with a career that has seen a share of quality releases (Intermission, Boy A), but nothing to make him one to watch. His style is a quiet one, significantly focused on the characters. Where many directors can plan a quality tracking shot or square a lovely frame with their cinematographer, Crowley is interested in faces, and not one at a time. Brooklyn finds Crowley letting his multiple inhabitants fill up the screen, with the biting insults, loving gestures and conflicting emotions play in simultaneous fronts, though he too knows when a startling close-up is the way to go.
Assisting him in so mall manner is the script by Nick Hornby. After decades as a successful novelist, Hornby is growing a fine filmography of screenplays, topping his already notable efforts of An Education and Wild with Brooklyn. In the opening act, he nimbly introduces us to Eilis’ nature, from her timidity to her kindness, while also unveiling one bombastic, phenomenal supporting character after another. At one point, nearly every new face that popped up seemed to steal the show, peeking with Julie Walters’ Mrs. Kehoe, whom runs an Irish boarding house and is quick to despair the decisions of her residents as she is to blithely pick apart their cattiness.
At the center of it all is Ronan in a performance that could easily be described as the best this year has had to offer. There is no space between an actor and Eilis, not so much from a method angle as just exuding a flawless stream of a persona. The shifts in mood, growing confident and falling back to prior ways as love enters her purview, envelop the whole. Ronan seemed to effortlessly yank tears from these eyeballs, be it from her newfound relationship or when a great pain makes its face present. When it comes time for Eilis to make her life’s biggest choice between two men (the wonderful Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson), the anguish is almost all too real, with Crowley, Hornby and especially Ronan to – thankfully – blame.