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Movie Review: 'Brooklyn'

The period piece moves with a gentle grace, but it's story can't keep up.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director John Crowley's period drama Brooklyn, the meager Irish woman Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) comes to America during the 1950's in search of a better life. Leaving behind the only world she's ever known, Eilis initially struggles in New York, working at a well-respected department store but feeling completely empty and homesick. Although she's set up in a boarding home with other Irish female immigrants, Eilis struggles to adjust to her new life, until she meets the Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen), who is immediately smitten with her. But when tragedy forces her to return home, Eilis is immediately courted by Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) and must make a difficult decision: stay and enjoy an opulent life or take a chance on Brooklyn and the love which awaits her.

Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn is beautifully shot and well acted, with Ronan turning in a delicate performance. One feels a pull to the era, as Crowley has transported us to watch this story unfold without their knowledge. But it's all superficial as Writer Nick Hornby doesn't give Ronan enough to do, and never creates a sense controversy, keeping his chaarcters fairly one-note throughout the production. Nearly everyone outside of Eilis and Tom are just amalgams, impediments that she must dodge or scurry past on her way to whatever seemingly dull life she's set up for herself. Moreover, there's never the sense that Eilis has anything truly to suffer for, that her life will be good if she just sticks to her interests and pushes on through. There's some suggestion that the Irish had some difficulties in America, but we've seen these kinds of struggles play out better in the elegant Avalon.

Ronan has proved her worth in Hanna, but here she's so reserved that Eilis never gets a chance to tell her story about the immigrant experience in America. Gleeson's no more than a glorified cameo, content to not even show up until the third act. He and Ronan have decent chemistry, but it's Cohen who shines the brightest, providing the best Italian accent I've heard in years, his love for the Brooklyn Dodgers/hatred for the Yankees as real as I can remember from my Italian upbringing. I think real stars here are Julie Walters as the boarding house marm, whose strict Catholic values clash hilariously with the ruckus girls that include Arrow's Emily Bett Rickards, as well as Father Flood played by Jim Broadbent. Both stand as bright lights against the rather effects produced by the leads.

But without any real conflict to keep the story moving, Brooklyn begins to sway of course, settling into a passive avenue of storytelling where everyone largely behaves themselves, does what they're told, and treats Eilis with enough love to float the cruise ship that brings her to America. Had it been made 40 years ago, Brooklyn might have found itself in privileged company, the center of TCM spotlights and repeated airings. Unfortunately, such gentleness doesn't feel as relevant as it once did, perhaps saying more about where our culture is headed than a criticism of the movie. Regardless, it never uses its pieces very well, and the lack of direction wastes the immense talent compiled to service it.

Brooklyn is rated Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language and has a runtime of 111 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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