Have you ever seen an old film and thought, “They don’t make movies like this anymore?” Well, someone made one, and it’s called “Brooklyn.” The film is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug. I left feeling better than I did going in, and happier than I have after seeing a movie in quite some time.
The story is the definition of simplicity. In 1952, a young woman named Eilis Lacey leaves her small hometown in Ireland and moves to the New York City borough of Brooklyn to begin a new life. While there, she falls in love with and secretly marries an Italian plumber. When a death in Eilis’ family draws her back to Ireland for the funeral, the pull of her relatives, her roots, and her budding interest in another man force her to choose between two lives.
Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones”) is Eilis. I last saw her in the coming of age apocalyptic drama “How I Live Now,” in which she plays a teenager trying to take care of herself and her siblings after a nuclear attack on England. In “Brooklyn,” she’s not only come of age as an actress, she’s delivered one of the most radiant performances I’ve seen in a film.
Ronan’s symbiotic relationship with the camera is one of the reasons she shines in “Brooklyn.” Eilis’ face, in all of its innocence, beauty, and curiosity, often fills the screen. There are several moments, such as when Eilis first lays eyes on New York City, when director John Crowley shows only a glimpse of what she’s seeing, and instead lingers on her face. Instead of attempting to stir our emotions by showing us what Eilis sees, Crowley shows us how what Eilis sees affects her. Therein lies the emotional heart of the film, and the means of drawing us deeper into it.
Crowley does more than use Ronan’s face to suggest emotion, he uses it to tell Eilis’ story. In a brilliant shot, he refocuses from a bride eagerly pledging her faithfulness to her groom in a wedding in Ireland to Eilis, who’s nestled in the pews among dozens of guests. She’s visibly trying to contain the tension she feels, and her slightly strained expression says everything we need to know about the struggle taking place within her.
For all of Crowley’s exceptional choices as director, Ronan deserves the most credit for how good “Brooklyn” is. She’s nothing less than a luminescent presence, and delivers a truly great performance that elevates “Brooklyn” from heartfelt melodrama to modern classic.
I also love how the film is dressed. From the clothes, to the mannerisms and mores of each character, to the look and feel of 1952 New York City, “Brooklyn” is draped in authenticity, but not in a calculated or detached way. Rather, each frame of the film seems to have been fashioned out of a love for the story, its characters, and the places they inhabit. Although I’ve never lived in Ireland or visited New York City in the past, the wellings of nostalgia were inescapable, and I found myself longing for things I’ve never experienced.
“Brooklyn” is easily one of the best films of 2015. Not only was it masterfully made, and not only did all of the actors and actresses excel in their roles, but you can feel the sincerity everyone involved with the project poured into it. During the Christmas season, theaters will be crammed with commercial product made only with an eye on the profit it will produce. But “Brooklyn” was made to remind us of the adventure, sadness, and hope life offers – to tell us there’s love to be found if we’re willing to make the journey.
They don’t make movies like that anymore.
Three and a half stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.