Forget about the hipster-bearded image of Brooklyn. Irish director John Crowley’s big-hearted adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel, an immigrant story set in 1952, goes back to the New York neighbourhood’s blue-collar past. But ‘Brooklyn’ is no mere nostalgia piece. It also rescues a kind of sincere moviemaking that’s gone out of style, where decent characters grapple with real ethical dilemmas and awaken to new versions of themselves.
The film’s beating heart is 21-year-old Saoirse Ronan, once the bright-eyed teen from ‘Atonement’, now on her way to becoming the most quietly expressive actress of her generation. She plays Eilis, bored by rural Ireland yet apprehensive about the promise of a new life in New York, where a kindly a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) has found her a job in a department store. Leaving behind her mother and older sister for the journey to America, she’s a sad, lonely figure barely able to speak. But the movement of the story – from crippling homesickness to blooming confidence – elevates the movie to universal urban poetry.
Sharply scripted by Nick Hornby, ‘Brooklyn’ eventually brings on a pair of complications for Eilis. The first is lovestruck Italian-American plumber Tony (Emory Cohen), who dreams of moving them out to Long Island. The other, encountered on an emergency trip to the old country, is Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), exactly the kind of boy Eilis wished she’d met before she left. Suddenly her future is too bright and the plot’s love triangle is energised by the nuanced pull of home – wherever that might be. The tension is exquisite, more than enough for any movie, and Ronan makes you feel every pang.