Glossy and gorgeous, John Crowley’s Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as the young Eilis (that’s “ay-lish”) emigrating from Ireland to 1950s New York City, leaving behind her family and small village for the promises of American opportunity. Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby (the About a Boy and High Fidelity novelist) craft a world populated with vibrant characters to prevent the drab cliches one might expect from such a plot in a film with such mainstream intentions. A current of fierce passion runs underneath the pristine surface, with Saoirse Ronan’s eloquent performance elevating the entire endeavor.
Tasked with a massive character arc and range of emotional beats, Ronan has to carry the weight of the film squarely on her face. The film’s power is thanks mostly to her ability to wordlessly express Eilis’s internal struggle, from girlish meekness to forthright womanhood, from wide-eyed ignorance to comfort within her own skin. Crowley and cinematographer Yves Bélanger are clearly fascinated with her face, and who could blame them with her astounding ability to push the narrative with even the slightest movement in her features. Ronan motivates Eilis’s struggle with shades of discovery and despair, covering that she’s written a bit thinly. It’s a classic movie star performance not just for its emotive expressionism, but for the confidence given to rely on her abilities to connect with the audience.