World War II was rightfully horrifying for all. Forgive the generalization, but it was also a time period in the States when patriotism exploded after Pearl Harbor. This patriotism hid dark truths, much like it does now. Discrimination against entire ethnicities surged, most famously here with the forced internment of Japanese Americans. In Ted Geoghegan’s BROOKLYN 45, we see how the fight against the enemy lingers for many after the war and how those who can’t leave the war behind are ultimately the most damned of them all.
The war has recently ended. 1946 is on the horizon. Marla (Anne Ramsey) and Bob Sheridan (Ron E. Rains) meet Mjr. Archibald Stanton (Jeremy Holm) in front of a brownstone belonging to their best friend, Lt. Col. Clive Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden). Inside they meet the Lt. Col. along with their pre-gaming friend, Mjr. Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington). What they think is just a casual get-together slowly spirals into something else.
The Lt. Col. has gathered them with a specific purpose – a séance. Needing a sign of the other side, the Lt. Col. pushes them to participate until they cave. A closet bangs. The lights flicker. It isn’t until a hand emerges from the mirror that they realize momentarily that it isn’t a ruse. All bets are off, though, when the Lt. Col leaves them all with the ultimate final task – kill the German (Kristina Klebe) he’s trapped in the closet – before subsequently unaliving himself. From there, we watch as this gang of best friends grapples with unfortunate truths that re-emerge from the past.
Advertised as a supernatural thriller, BROOKLYN 45 possesses more of a murder mystery feel. Likely influenced by his late father Michael’s contributions, there is an added layer of depth to the development of this group of war veterans. From the language used to the intimate details of how war is conducted behind the scenes, this background contributes greatly to how real and lived-in these characters feel.
Part of this is a testament to the acting. This team of veteran actors in BROOKLYN 45 infuses such life into their characters, giving them complexity while also filling in their respective archetypes. I know it’s a bit predictable, but Anne Ramsey’s Marla is my favorite. While she took on a traditionally male-assigned role during the war (which was common during the time period), she’s also adamant that she is ready to leave the war behind her.
With that said, not all the characters come across as fully realized. This seems less due to the acting and more so to do with what might have been written on the page. Bob Sheridan, based on what we pick up from the story, is the least respected. It’s apparent that he might not have fought in battle based on exposition and dialogue provided. While Rains provides plenty of nuance, especially with all the potshots Mjr. DiFranco throws at him, a pivotal decision toward the end of BROOKLYN 45 comes out of left field. There’s no easily distinguishable connecting point to grab onto for that moment to make sense for the character.
Then there’s Kristina Klebe’s Hildegard Baumann. For a role that requires us to gauge her guilt, there’s not much nuance she’s given or delivers onscreen, which makes it pretty hard to peg her character down. Perhaps that was the point of the character given how half of the team assumes her guilt based on her accent alone. As is, even after having time to sit with my thoughts, I’m still not sure what we were to make of Hildegard in connection to her character’s journey.
There are a lot of ideas juggling around in BROOKLYN 45 so it was tricky to determine what the focus should be. From the idea of clinging onto the past to fractured friendships to the fine line between patriotism and nationalism, there’s so much to chew on but not enough time for some of the introduced themes to really linger. This especially felt like the case when it came to the climax.
After so much build-up, it’s abrupt and closed off, leaving little room for a proper resolution for the viewer. There are character resolutions which, given again the character-driven focus of the film, provided something there between what will hopefully become the favorite characters of other viewers. A general note is that the pacing of BROOKLYN 45 isn’t helped by how long it takes to reach the first major plot mover. There’s a steady back and forth in the middle, but then all changes once the door gets slammed on us with that climax, and that short hop to the ending.
In terms of the set, great design work was done by Sarah Sharp for the setting. Fatima Hernandez did a great job with the costuming, which provided further insight into each of our characters. Given what I imagine were the logistical challenges of the practical set they were working with, it was also nice to see some practical effects mixed in there. That white vomit goo stuff was gross.
Overall, BROOKLYN 45 was okay. There’s clearly a lot of research done to capture the characters and this post-war world, making it successful in feeling real and easily connectable to our world today. With that said, it read almost like a play with the setting, the pacing, and the emphasis on character. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but, for the impatient viewer, may be a bit of an issue for murder mystery solving longevity. With the other issues picked up on, it may be a harder sell for some to dig into. However, if you want to see an example of the world’s worst best friend, maybe hunker down, pour yourself a whiskey, and settle in.
BROOKLYN 45 had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Make sure to read our SXSW coverage here.
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