John Crowley creates a hauntingly beautiful tale of love on two continents in his period film “Brooklyn.”
Crowley allows the story to unfold through the beautiful landscapes of the Irish countryside and Brooklyn in the early 1950s, presenting each with details that bring them to life. Such lavish backgrounds demand players who will not get lost in the shadows.
The director’s best decision was to take full advantage of the strength, beauty, intelligence and warmth that can be seen in the eyes of his lead actress, Saoirse Ronan. She can move mountains of emotions with a glance. Elevate the power of a scene with a look. Draw an audience so deeply into the story they feel like part of the scenery with a slight smile.
Her work in “Brooklyn” is her strongest since 2007’s “Atonement,” where she picked up an Oscar nomination for supporting actress.
Without Ronan, “Brooklyn” would have been a good story of an Irish girl, Ellis Lacey (Ronan), who migrates to America to find a better life. She accomplishes her objective, including falling for a loving and dear man (Emory Cohen).
A return home following the untimely death of her sister presents Lacey with a look at what life could have been had she never traveled to America. She struggles with defining her own happiness and of those in her life on both sides of the ocean.
“Brooklyn” needed Ronan for such a gentle tale. There are a few light moments – especially created by Julie Walters as the owner of the boarding house where Lacey lives. But the majority of the movie is a quiet tale of love, loss and life-changing decisions.
Crowley’s solution to getting the most power out of these moments is to focus on Ronan. For example, Ronan’s quiet reaction to first hearing the words “I love you” could have been played for cloying drama or overly sentimental schlock. Allowing the scene to play out on Ronan’s face delivers just the right amount of drama, romance and fear.
Such scenes don’t seem alien to the production because the entire movie moves at a casual clip. Crowley has such a respect for the worlds he has created that he shows each off like a proud new father.
Those scenes range from the energy on the streets of Brooklyn to a vast Irish coastline. Both are given proper attention to allow the audience to get a sense of where all of this is unfolding. A director can get away with such an approach when the story is strong and the actors even stronger.
It helps that Ronan has two strong leading men.
Actors playing characters from Brooklyn often tend to overplay the accent or mannerisms. Cohen’s performance suggests a man who comes from Brooklyn, not a bad impersonation. He also exudes the kind of sweet heart that it would take to catch the eye of Ronan’s character.
Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Irish suitor Jim Farrell, is equally sweet and charming. He’s also the kind of person to whom Ronan would be attracted.
All of these players help create a film that has a love story often associated with a Jane Austen novel. Because Ronan is so good at getting across a myriad of emotion, the love story resonates deeply to make this a captivating story presented in a beautiful fashion.