Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley (2015)

This beguiling tale about a young Irishwoman in New York is far and away the best film released this week.

Saoirse Ronan adds another fine performance to her CV as a thoughtful, amenable soul on a voyage of self-discovery. Her subtle strength is reflected in the quality of the filmmaking.

Based on Colm Toibin’s novel, it features a charming cast working from a smart script, a lovely eye for period detail and gorgeous photography.

Much creative budget-stretching gives it a polish and sweep much better financed films should envy.

Nick Hornby also wrote Reece Witherspoon’s Wild (2015) and has found a niche writing thoughtful, female character centred films.

I wouldn’t want to wish him out of a job, but it’s a poor commentary on the industry these films probably wouldn’t be made with a non-name female writer attached.

Eilis Lacey realises 1950’s Ireland has little to offer her and so suffers an undignified sea crossing in search of a future.

When Eilis steps from the gloomy immigration hall into the bright colour of the big apple, it’s a magical moment similar to Dorothy stepping into the wonderful world of Oz.

As Eilis struggles with homesickness, heartache and the harsh winter, a Christmas dinner for the homeless diaspora is a reminder of the unforgiving nature of the world.

Thankfully the fiddle playing is kept to a minimum.

Jim Broadbent’s kindly Father Flood finds her a job in a department store under the sternly glamorous gaze of Miss Fortini, played with panache by Jessica Pare.

Eilis must also carefully navigate the politics of her boarding house dining table, refereed by Julie Walters’ mother hen of a landlady, Mrs Kehoe.

As well as having every intention of keeping god away from her nylons, Mrs Kehoe warns her female-only clientele of the sinfulness of giddiness.

The many women Eilis meets offer small kindnesses, advice and insight to her own possible futures.

As she slowly builds a life for herself Eilis is torn between sweet suitors on either side of the pond.

Domhnall Gleeson Irish rugby fan is unknowingly pitted against Emory Cohen’s baseball fanatic Italian-American.

But a secret Eilis keeps even from her mother threatens to scupper her happiness.

As the cast disarms the audience with humour, the drama to creeps up with surprising power.

Though Ellis may not quite conquer New York, Ronan’s performance will capture your heart. And no doubt an award nomination or two as well.

Lost River

Director: Ryan Gosling (2015)

A mother struggles to keep her family safe in this challenging and contemporary nightmarish fairytale.

Director Gosling can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition in his directorial debut, it’s the Hollywoods heart-throb’s execution of his underdeveloped story that let’s him down.

Billy (Christina Hendricks) is three months behind on the mortgage and local bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) suggests she takes a job with Cat (Eva Mendes)

She runs a local cabaret, owned by Dave. It’s a strange, credit card-accepted-only place where the acts involve the dismemberment of beautiful women. The audience gleefully lap up this conflation of sex and violence as bloody entertainment.

However it’s downstairs in the secret chamber where the girls can make the real money but the fearful Billy is reluctant despite the pressure to do so.

Meanwhile her eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) is friendly with Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who lives next door with her grandmother.

Their tentative relationship is threatened by the local hardman called Bully (Matt Smith). Bones has fallen foul of Bully for stealing copper pipes and the plier-wielding psychopath is out for revenge.

It is an apocalyptic setting, there’s no internet for a start. The bureaucracy still operates though.

The destruction of the man-made environment is ongoing; sledgehammers smash through walls, bulldozers rip down houses, buildings are burnt to the ground, there are burnt out cars and dinosaur statues. The elemental power of fire and water are recurring motifs.

Detroit and its astonishing urban decay are exploited to good effect; roads are swamped by a green and aggressive mother nature. Zoos are empty, neighbourhoods are abandoned.

Encounters with random people seem unscripted and there’s far too much improvisation to too little effect. Dialogue is sparse and there are no real conversations but lots of questions asked in an open-ended teenage way.

Insufficient menace and tension are generated by a languid pace.

In natural light Gosling throws in every shot he has heard of with no rythym or reason; dutch angles, tracking shots, overhead pans, shifting focus – and all in the first five minutes.

It does possess a strong sense of colour with many scenes saturated, giving Hendricks hair and complexion a startling vivacity.

There’s nothing wrong with the work of editors Nico Leunen and Valdis Oskarsdottir or of cinematographer Benoit Debie – just a lack of cohesive thought in preparing the shoot.

The soundtrack is a curious combination of industrial noises and old melodies; Mendelsohn gives an unexpected performance of Bob Nolan’s 1936 western song Cool Water.

As an actor Gosling has made some interesting work with director Nicholas Refn and is strongly influenced by his work. There’s also touches of David Lynch though this is not necessarily a compliment.

More random ideas bandied about include the character of Rat’s Grandmother who has been mute since her husband died building a reservoir. She watches the video of her wedding day on a loop, echoing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

All the actors commit themselves to the directors vision and some are familiar with him. Both Mendelsohn and Mendes worked with Gosling on The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) while Hendricks appeared in the Refn’s Drive (2011) with Gosling. Ronan appeared in the similarly fairytale inflected Hanna (2011).

Lost River feels like a film shot with the intention of finding itself in the edit. It may still be looking.