REVIEW: Brooklyn

18 11 2015

BrooklynSincerity has gone out of style in the world of adult filmmaking, perhaps as a sort of defense mechanism against the ever encroaching threat of extinction. (That’s just speculation on my part, though.) So it always feels refreshing when a film like “Brooklyn,” triumphant in its emotionality and lack of irony, manages to break through the cracks. The film’s combination of a pure heart and gorgeous craftsmanship produces an experience that lifts the soul.

Director John Crowley takes an unabashedly classical approach to telling the story of Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis, an Irish immigrant to New York in the 1950s. “Brooklyn” may look and feel like a film made in that time period, but it never falls back on retrograde worldviews or attitudes. Screenwriter Nick Hornby simply takes Colm Tóibín’s novel and allows it to soar as a tender tale of a young woman finding her voice and her home – two things with obvious relevance today.

Eilis leaves behind her widowed mother and unmarried older sister in small town Ireland not out of any great desire to start a new life. In fact, the arrangements for her to live and work in the heavily Irish concentrated Brooklyn get made almost entirely by others. Faced with the choice between an unsatisfying present and an uncertain future, Eilis lets her family nudge her towards taking the fork in the road.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 12, 2015)

12 11 2015

Boy AWe still live in a time where deeply internal, emotional performances from male screen actors are rare – especially from younger ones. Perhaps because most major roles for men are written with external, goal-driven motivations as opposed to looking within, the smart career move is to position oneself for those. But every once in a while, a miraculous turn appears.

Such is the case with “Boy A,” which features a young Andrew Garfield at his most sensitive and powerful. Before he became a household name in films like “The Social Network” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Garfield got a chance to get in touch with a side of himself that is seldom seen from men these days. His contemplative performance, nestled within a story that asks tough moral questions, makes this an obvious choice for my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

I must admit, I tried to watch “Boy A” a few years ago and turned it off after about 20 minutes. I don’t know what changed from then to now, but I am so glad I gave it a second chance. From its opening moments, I found myself riveted and drawn into the headspace of Garfield’s character, Jack Burridge. Initially, we do not quite understand why he seems unable to supersede the guilt and shame that plagues him. But we can sense the weight of the past in Jack’s every word and action, burdening him so heavily that he cannot move forward into the future.

“Boy A” doles out the specifics of Jack’s situation in a very deliberate manner. We know that he has just been released from some sort of facility and a new identity to become a productive member of society. Some flashbacks to Jack’s childhood are intercut into the action, though they pale in comparison to the information we get just from looking at his face in the present day. The raw emotion captured by director John Crowley proves nothing short of gut-wrenching to watch play out. Jack is clearly a tender, wounded soul, yet he struggles to believe he is worthy of redemption. We, the viewers, feel no such ambiguity after observing just how poignantly Garfield bares his vulnerabilities before us.

INTERVIEW: John Crowley, director of “Brooklyn”

10 11 2015

Recently, I’ve begun contributing some pieces to Movie Mezzanine, a site run by a lot of people who started with WordPress blogs like this one back in the late 2000s/early 2010s. If the page isn’t on your radar, put it there. Tons of really great writers post some provocative, insightful scholarship there is out there on the Internet.

A nice perk of being able to post there is the incredible doors it opens for me to talk with some amazing talent. The latest of such is John Crowley, director of the new film “Brooklyn.” My full review is coming soon, although the interview has already been posted over at Movie Mezzanine. You can read about how the Dardennes influenced the film as well as how Crowley works with established cinematography teams and upstart young actors.

I work with an editor over there who provides valuable feedback, such as where pieces can be truncated. A few questions were omitted from the interview as it ran on Movie Mezzanine, but I wanted to give my good and faithful readers here at Marshall and the Movies a chance to read them!

John Crowley Brooklyn

These questions were asked at the beginning of the interview.


I got to see the film at the New York Film Festival, and it really played like gangbusters with my theater – in particular some of the humor about the ethnic groups. Was it comforting to to have those screenings go over well?


It was very satisfying, during one of the Q&As, somebody said, “How many weeks did you shoot in New York for?” And I was able to say, “Two days.” It [the question] was a bit of a gaffe, so that felt like we were able to pass muster.

You never know what’s going to play with what audience. It’s been fascinating as we’ve been doing the rounds and watching what audiences take away from it, but it felt like the New York audience was able to embrace the film and make it theirs.


Why was the choice made to premiere the film at Sundance?  Obviously that’s one of the best launching pads for any movies, but you don’t normally see films so classically made there. [Fox Searchlight does not include the Sundance Film Festival’s laurels in any of the marketing materials for Brooklyn.]


I think it was about timing, basically. I don’t know that there was a huge strategic decision behind it. We finished the film in December [2014], and depending on the calendar of when you finish it, people go for the next festival. Sundance was that next one.

We didn’t think we wanted to wait until Cannes – it didn’t particularly feel like a Cannes film even though, I agree, it didn’t feel like a Sundance film either. So when it was submitted to Sundance, I thought they might go, “Oh, this isn’t enough of whatever we want.” It might not be edgy enough; it might not be indie enough.  And that wasn’t their response. They were very happy to have the film there.

So that was the main reason. I don’t think any of us really wanted to sit on it for six months and then try and do something with Telluride and Toronto.

Saoirse Ronan Brooklyn

The following was at the tail end of our conversation.


Ok, one last question – is there an area of Brooklyn that hasn’t been addressed on the press tour that you’d like to talk about?


Oh, gosh – that’s a question I’ve never been asked.

No, not necessarily. People have commented on the quality of the entire cast, which is rather lovely. Down to every last part, it was lovingly stitched together. That was a great joy, building this rather beautiful mosaic and wanting every part to be vivid and real.


I even felt sympathy for Dolores [a minor character at Eilis’ boarding home in Brooklyn, roundly despised by all the other girls] – she was so sweet even as she was annoying.


Yes, exactly. That’s a wonderful performance from Jane Murray. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from her.

I can’t honestly say there is [a question I haven’t gotten to answer]. You’ve asked the most surprising question by asking what hasn’t been talked about.


I always want to give people the chance to answer the right question.  If there’s one question that I can ask to help someone’s vision shine through, I want to ask it. 


The style in which I did it was almost invisible; that’s why I don’t necessarily describe myself as an auteur. I don’t try to put myself forward in the frame. I say look at this rather than look at me. That’s the thing that informs everything that I do.