“Brooklyn” is the rare sort of film that leaves you in disbelief once the end credits start rolling. This feeling is not due to a dramatic cliffhanger or a shocking plot twist, but results instead from the film’s ability to envelop you in its world and characters. Despite its 112-minute length, “Brooklyn” never feels long, but still feels as though it should continue indefinitely.
The period drama follows the experiences of a young Irish immigrant as she settles in Brooklyn in the 1950s. Eilis Lacey leaves her home country to build a future for herself, but when a family tragedy compels her to return, she must choose between her new home and her old one. Played masterfully by Saoirse Ronan, Eilis’ struggles to reconcile familial obligations, cultural expectations, and her own personal aspirations. This struggle is the driving force of the film. Ultimately, “Brooklyn” is a coming-of-age story that depicts how the choices we make set us apart from those who have come before.
Eilis’ transition to life in Brooklyn is eased when she meets the charming Italian Tony Fiorello, played by Emory Cohen. His warm presence enables Eilis to better envision her future in America. But Eilis’ romantic pursuits and marital prospects are only one aspect of her complex struggle to reconcile two starkly different locations and lifestyles. Her growing affections for Tony both endear her to her new home and exacerbate her conflicted interests. Her situation is complicated further when she is compelled to return to Ireland, where she meets the eligible Jim Farrell, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Eilis is certainly motivated by her romantic prospects, but her choices are always more dependent upon her desire to find the best life for herself.
Ronan carries the emotional weight of the film flawlessly. Notably, many of the film’s most poignant, well-acted scenes are those in which no dialogue occurs. Ronan is skilled at conveying emotion through expressions alone. “Brooklyn” showcases her ability as an actress, as she translates Eilis’ emotions into focused looks and hopeful glances.
This year marks Ronan’s second Oscar nomination, and her first for Best Actress. Surprisingly, director John Crowley wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Considering his ability to elicit such strong, emotionally-resonant performances from his cast, it is an odd snub. The success of the film is still remarkable, however, considering its comparatively low 10-million-dollar budget.
Based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, “Brooklyn” has also been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Although it’s not the most extravagant film going for the top award, it is unmatched in its subtlety. Able to elicit strong emotional responses with soft-spoken conversations and, sometimes, mere shared silences, “Brooklyn” should not be underestimated.