This post contains spoilers about Brooklyn.
John Crowley’s Brooklyn, an adaptation of the novel by Colm Tóibín from writer Nick Hornby, is simple, spare and beautiful. It’s an old-fashioned romance, the kind of movie people claim they don’t make anymore, except for the fact that they do, and it’s called Brooklyn.
Starring Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish immigrant named Eilis who comes to the title New York borough during the 1950s for a new chance at life, Brooklyn is a movie that lives and dies by its mood — its akin to a warm embrace that never feels forced or cloying. “I’m just amazed at how every time it heads toward the cliff of cheesiness it steers away from it at the nick of time,” composer Michael Brook says. “It’s impressive. The way John, Nick Hornby, the actors, all go for emotions but it’s never pushed.”
That goes for Brook’s score too, an elegant arrangement of strings that never goes for the obvious beat. “I think the slogan of the score became A Delicate Balance,” Brook says. “We wanted to heighten the emotions in many scenes or portray the internals, and at the same time avoid trying to push the emotions. John was extremely sensitive to that. There was a lot of fine tuning of pushing — or not pushing — that side of things. That was one of the main goals of the score.”
As Brook notes, one of his biggest challenges came along with one of the film’s trickiest scenes: when Eilis receives a marriage proposal from her Brooklyn beau Tony, played by Emory Cohen.
“I thought of him like a dog, an obedient dog who loves his owner,” Cohen said of his character. “I thought about the great scenes in On the Waterfront between Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint, just sort of the intimacy. I tried to see if I could capture that myself.”
But Tony’s proposal is initially not met with an affirmative from Eilis, but a question: Is this what she really wants?
“You sensed at the beginning of it that he was trying to pull her into something that she was reluctant to do,” Brook says. “I wanted to sort of switch from focusing on Tony’s mission to Eilis gradually being won over and embracing the idea and her happiness about it.”
“At first I didn’t quite get it, at first,” Brook admits of what Crowley was trying to attempt. “But I started to realize John had a very precise map of when things would emerge and when things would change. It was pretty genius when you look at it. Down in the trenches, you’re wrestling with the moment to moment stuff. But his emotional blueprint for the scene and the film as a whole, he had that worked out to an unusual degree.”
Listen to the track from the proposal sequence, fittingly called “Proposal,” below. Brooklyn is out in limited release on Wednesday; its soundtrack will arrive to stream and purchase on Friday.