Easing into the first few minutes of Brooklyn 45, one gets a feeling of a slower pace of life. Not just for the times it is set in but also in the manner in which the story unfolds stylistically as well as narratively. This is a film that unpacks slowly and takes its time to say what it wants to say. Set in post-war America, it is about a group of veterans who meet for a reunion at their friend’s place, who is grieving his wife’s premature passing.
The dramatis personae of the story are Clive, the recently widowed Colonel played by Larry Fessenden; Major Paul Di Franco, played by Ezra Buzzington, who is a tough, no-nonsense soldier for whom the war never ended; and Jeremy Holm as Archie, a soldier who has a reputation for being courageous and is respected by the squad. He is currently defending himself from accusations of being a war criminal for having indulged in the immoral act of killing dozens of children during military action. Then there is the couple on whom the film opens, Maria and Bob, played by Anne Ramsey and Ron Rains. There is something about the way all the other friends greet Maria that makes her a central character in Brooklyn 45 serving as its moral and emotional pivot. She is the only female character in the group who is comfortable with the boys and well respected as one of the finest interrogators in America. In a prior interrogation, she is supposed to have snapped off the finger of a German soldier in order to get some information. She is loved and respected by these men, but her husband finds a fair share of insults coming his way from the other men in the room, primarily for having not witnessed the horrors of the war. Bob represents the liberal who is opposed to guns and violence and is the only civilian in the mix.
Set in a single location for a duration of about 90 minutes, there is enough meat in the narrative to keep things interesting, with the interactions of the characters going in all directions of the moral, metaphysical, and political ways of looking at things. What earlier seemed to be a pleasant get-together of old friends turns nasty, with some incoming revelations bending the film into the pathways of horror to further explore its themes. On a metaphorical level, the one-room setup is like a war field itself, with decisions to be made in real time that can have life-altering ramifications. The horror works well in bringing out the PTSD prevalent among soldiers after the war and how it leaves a lasting impact on their worldview. There are thoughtful conversations on the impact of hate and living in a time when people were turned against each other for mere political gains.
As a metaphoric representation of war and how it makes monsters out of innocent humans, Brooklyn 45 works really well, especially with the ending that brings things together to give a thematic release. There are a handful of times when horror is used more than just as an atmospheric and stylistic device meant to scare the living hell out of you. Jordan Peele infuses political connotations into his tales of horror that end up becoming more than just a weak string of loosely connected scares. Similarly, “Brooklyn 45” makes horror the centerpiece for its themes to flourish, thereby reaching an interesting territory where the grim moments resonate with the sentiments of an entire generation in the post-war years. It brings out the horrific circumstances of war in a manner that scares you and fills you up with a growing pain for all the characters and how their lives were changed and even destroyed due to the impacts of war. If millions died on the streets, falling prey to bombings and gunfire, the ones that survived had to die a million deaths each day. These are the kinds of emotions that the film wants to spread out with that amalgamation of horror in its themes.
If it were not for the horror, which was created largely with changes in the score and lighting and some blood and violence meted out to shock you, Brooklyn 45 would function like a play. The story would evoke even deeper emotions when staged in an intimate setting, as you would have to witness the characters lose their minds in front of you. It operates only on dialogues that are extremely well-written in the way they provide a fitting glimpse into the minds of the characters; it would be even more fulfilling to experience it as a play. However, with a tight screenplay that is filled with twists to keep you on the edge of your seats throughout, it still blossoms into an engaging film. Playing on the tropes of horror and creating meaning out of it that strikes well in your head, the film serves as a worthy exploration of some complex ideas from the past that are still widely relevant in the world we are living in today with the rise of authoritarianism and hate.
Brooklyn 45 is a surprise in the way it plays with the genre of horror, using it to bring out the horrors of the war. It is poignant and shocking, and at the same time, it manages to send ripples of thought to mull over after the credits run through. It is filmed in a manner that is widely conscious of the space, and it uses it effectively to keep with the overall rhythm while providing an experience of terror. It ends marvelously with a silently poetic frame of two characters sitting in a car separated by a panel, signifying the isolation that has grown between them due to the events that took place. Brooklyn 45 is a sincere attempt at understanding the psychological impact of war and often feels academic with its observations on morality and empathy. It has been a cinematic triumph all along.