Emory Cohen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Anthony "Tony" Fiorello in Brooklyn.
Any who with all that it might sound like I've turned against the film. Well I have not and those flaws were there the first time I watched the film, and I still said I loved it because I do. This is a film though that technically breaks the often said criticism "style over substance" since if something has enough style it can easily can make up for its thin amount of substance. The film works due to its direction to be sure as it takes us through the story in such wonderfully eloquent fashion, but this is a case where the performances may be the most important. Saoirse Ronan could not be more perfect as Ellis as the somewhat timid young woman making the journey from Ireland to America to start a new life. The other essential player though is played by Emory Cohen, and there are many challenges presented here. The first being in the casting of Emory Cohen, if one only ever saw his performance in A Place Beyond the Pines, they should be very concerned for the success of a film which depends on him. Well thankfully Cohen does his best to wipe away the memory of that terrible gangsta Marlon Brando routine, with his portrayal of Tony here.
The funny thing is that Cohen again might have some Brando influence in there, but this time his whole approach not only seems far more natural it is far more fitting to this film's style. Cohen does not overdo it this time just bringing on the light touches of the Brando style, with a few slight smirks in there, but they only ever feel right for the character of Tony. It all just adds to it, and makes him feel like a vivid representation of young guy from the period. Another challenge though presents itself with character of Tony who is not all that complex when you get down to it. He's a nice Italian plumber who does not like talking about his job, as well as apparently avoids talking about baseball despite that being one of his most favorite things. However none of that really matters because Cohen makes the most of what's there. It must be said that he is ridiculously charming here. That slight smirk never feels like smugness, but rather Cohen only carries an earnest enthusiasm with the character. Cohen runs with the certain simplicity actually by making it frankly just so appealing, and manages to find an honesty within it that seems to override that potential problem.
It needs to be said that he and Ronan are great together. Their chemistry is in fact rather unassuming, there's nothing raw about their romance to be sure. There does not need to be though as the two of them find something very special in their fairly casual conversations with one another. They don't often talk about matters of great importance, nor is this a case of the romantic comedy type of relationship where they have a bit of a love/hate thing going on. It's really just a depiction of a courtship between the two, which Ronan rather interestingly does not show as though she's wholly swept away by him. However the modest relationship they develop becomes quite endearing because of how it is developed. What's special is how they do not rush it, well other than in one plot requiriment which is a mistake but has nothing to do with the performances, yet the two are terrific in showing the connection between the two that only grows over time. There's just a great byplay between the two as each becomes progressively more comfortable with the other in each new scene, and I love that watching them is so wonderful even though there is nothing out of the ordinary about the romance.
Now another challenge does present itself for Cohen in that Tony's insistent behavior towards Ellis could have been overbearing or perhaps even worse creepy in the wrong hands. Cohen though is pitch perfect in his performance, as there is something pivotal he does on his end, which is to show that Tony is absolutely infatuated with Ellis. There's just no question about this with Cohen's work which makes anything Tony does incredibly endearing because he presents it as though it only ever feels like it comes directly from the heart. Cohen is so good though in that he is able to make Tony such a sympathetic guy as he never makes this love in itself simplistic. He finds complication in really this nervousness he brings to Tony's interactions with Ellis, suggesting a man who has difficultly with every next step in the relationship because he's almost gripped with fear at times that he might lose her. When he says he must see her every chance he can get, Cohen only ever allows the words to be that of a man who genuinely means it. There's no irony, no cynicism, it's a true love that Cohen always brings to his eyes, and really any interaction with her. There's a sweetness to at all, as even when he sees her in a bathing suit for the first time, Cohen manages to not make his reaction seem that of a lustful man, but somehow finds a purity in his enthusiastic response as it is from a man who clearly only treasures the time he spends with her. Cohen's work here is not this complex portrait of a man of the period, but it doesn't have to be. He just needs to be a man whose in love with a woman, and that love is never in question. Cohen's work is essential to the success of the film, which would frankly have fallen apart if Tony was anything less than what Cohen makes him. It's a great performance as the character could have failed in so many ways, but Cohen only ever makes this a winning depiction of, well, a nice guy.