Brooklyn: A Poetic Past

Films about immigration are imbued with a heaviness, from the epic family saga The Godfather Part II (1974) to the recent and aptly titled, The Immigrant (2013). In these, immigrating and assimilating is depicted as an enormous hurdle, a transition from a dark world to an even darker one. A transition that requires great strength to get to the light of the American Dream. Brooklyn (2015) is quite a different immigration tale. Eilis, a young woman brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan, feels trapped in her small Irish town and makes the leap to New York City in the 1950s. Her struggles to assimilate are much more lighthearted and heartwarming, oftentimes played for genuine laughs.

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After arriving, Eilis deals with immense homesickness, but things turn around when she starts dating a young Italian man named Tony. Circumstances eventually lead to her return to Ireland, where she finds herself unwillingly trapped and left to question whether she should stay or return to New York. John Crowley finely depicts Elis’ feelings of isolation and longing for home, such as the scenes of sheer joy when she receives a letter from home. Crowley makes Ellis’ struggle relevant and deeply felt for contemporary audiences, even though we are used to messaging someone with the click of a button.

Cinematographer Yves Belanger (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild) , production designer Francois Seguin and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux bring the 1950s world to life through the period clothes and surroundings. New York and Ireland both have vibrant and beautiful colors of their own, such as the bright greens of the rolling Irish hills or the eclectic rainbow of a day at the beach on Coney Island. This vivacity creates two beautifully distinct worlds and halves of Ellis’ heart. Her arc is signaled formally by the gradual brightness of her costumes, such as her green bathing suit and yellow dress, personifying the comfort and pride she begins to feel as a New York City woman. When she returns to Ireland, her lively clothes contrast the drab ones of her friends.

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Aside from the 1950s diegetic setting, the film feels ripped out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, a rare and refreshing commodity for a 2015 film. Eilis and Tony’s courtship is dutifully mannered and romantic, yet completely authentic. There is no ulterior motive for his affection and no evil schemes or cynical antagonist threatening to break them apart. It is no coincidence the pair see Singing in the Rain together, for Brooklyn feels just as timeless and endearing. Brooklyn has an aura of timelessness, an innocence and universal charm found in the very era the film recreates. Nick Hornby’s screenplay navigates wholesome comedic vignettes with tender ethos to create a richly textured and poetic period drama that is sweet without being saccharine.

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Top 10: Robert De Niro Performances

 For those who knew of Robert De Niro only from the late 90s on, you know him as the funny old guy from Analyze This, or the father-in-law from Meet the Parents. During the 70s and 80s, De Niro was considered one of the greatest and best actors of his peers. He used the Method for many of his roles, physically and emotionally transforming himself to become some of the greatest characters in film history. From his start in early Brian DePalma comedies to becoming Scorsese’s first protege before Leo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro has a long career spanning the decades, starring in some of the greatest films in movie history. It’s really impossible to choose just 10 great performances, many of them are going to be unmentioned, but here’s what I consider to be his Top 10 performances.

1. Jake LaMotta – Raging Bull

Robert De Niro won the Oscar for his emotionally intense performance as the brutal boxer Jake LaMotta. There is so much that I could say about this performance. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest film performances of all time. This scene below (which I analyzed here) reveals the tenderness inside of LaMotta, revealing his broken humanity for all the outside chaos and destruction he causes.

2. Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver

The isolated and delusional psychopath is one of De Niro’s most famous and memorable roles. . His infamous “You talkin’ to me” scene was completely ad-libbed, which proves just how much De Niro absorbed himself into this role of rage-fueled loner.

3. Leonard Lowe – Awakenings

It’s often looked upon as a cliche that when an actor plays a character with a disability they are baiting for an Oscar. But what many people don’t understand is just how difficult it is for an actor to effectively pull off a physical or vocal disability. When I first saw Awakenings, De Niro’s performance blew me away. Leonard Lowe has a disability, almost a “locked in” syndrome, losing all movement and speech patterns. A drug is developed that nearly cures him, but it slowly starts losing it’s power and Leonard regresses back. De Niro received a well-deserved Oscar nomination (and should’ve won, in my opinion) for his heartbreaking and inspiring performance. It takes a lot of talent to pull something like that off.

4. Michael Vronsky – The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter is an intesnse portrayal of the Vietnam War. The famous Russian Roulette scene shown below shows just what high stakes and tensions De Niro had to portray. (As well as the amazing Christopher Walken) The rest of the performance is a quiet but devestation study of trauma. De Niro described it as the most draining film he ever performed in. Watching it, you can easily see why. De Niro effectively portrays the uneasy act of assimilation after returning back home from seeing such horrors of war.

5. Rupert Pupkin – The King of Comedy

De Niro and Scorsese teamed up in a change of pace from dark gangster pictures with The King of Comedy, a social satire on the obsession with fame and celebrity. De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a wannabee comic who goes so far to kidnap and hold his idol hostage to be on his show. De Niro gives Pupkin over the top mannerisms and speech, a performance that perfectly balances the desperation and tenacity of the character. This role can be seen a sister role to Travis Bickle, for Pupkin is just as delusional and unhinged.

6. David “Noodles” Aaronson Once Upon a Time in America

Noodles is a complicated role in Sergio Leone’s near four-hour epic. It is a mostly somber and quiet performance, Noodles spends most of the film as a sad and heartbroken wanderer, or an introspective outsider of his gang. But Noodles is not entirely likeable. There are two, one especially shocking, rape scenes in the film. Noodles can be equally savage as he is subdued. De Niro manages to brilliantly pull it off. (You can see more of my thoughts on his performance here)

7. Max Cady – Cape Fear

This is a deliciously over-the-top but equally terrifying performance. De Niro is a released convict that terrorizes the family of the lawyer who ineptly defended him. De Niro dons a thick Southern drawl, body builds for tight muscles which are decorated with religious tattoos. His eerily accurate portrayal of a sexual predator is in the scene below. (I analyzed that scene and his performance here)

8. Vito Corleone – The Godfather Part II

De Niro had a difficult job to do when being cast as the young Vito Corleone. Not only did he have to learn and perfect Sicilian dialogue (his lines were mostly in that language, with only sprinkles of English) but he had to fill the shoes of the great Marlon Brando. Brando made his role of Don Vito Corleone infamous in film history. De Niro had to evoke his performance while making it his own. De Niro achieves this and more. He tactfully echos familiar gestures and expressions that Brando used as Vito. He won Best Supporting Actor for this performance.

9. Father Bobby – Sleepers

Sleepers is rather underrated, but De Niro gives a great performance. He plays a priest who is a mentor to a group of boys in the city. The boys end up in prison where they are terrorized and raped by one of the guards. There’s a scene that is just a slow close-up on De Niro, a reaction shot to him hearing what happened to his young friends. De Niro encompasses a huge array of emotions with just one look.

10 Jack Walsh – Midnight Run

De Niro is well-known nowadays for making fun of his tough guy image with Analyze This, Meet the Parents, and the shameful The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. But one of his lighter roles in the hilarious Midnight Run is a great performance. De Niro has a clear flair for comedy as the fast-talking curmudgeon Jack Walsh. If you want to see more of his better comedic roles, watch We’re No Angels and Jackie Brown.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faU71nh6EdE