Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, “Motherless Brooklyn” follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a lonely private detective living with Tourette Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Armed only with a few clues and the powerful engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely-guarded secrets that hold the fate of the whole city in the balance. In a mystery that carries him from gin-soaked jazz clubs in Harlem to the hard-edged slums of Brooklyn and, finally, into the gilded halls of New York’s power brokers, Lionel contends with thugs, corruption and the most dangerous man in the city to honor his friend and save the woman who might be his own salvation. This film has been rated R for language throughout, including some sexual references, brief drug use, and violence.
What We Thought:
I really wanted to like Motherless Brooklyn, but overall the film fell kind of flat for me. It has some positives, but I can’t say it’s something I’d go out of my way to watch again which is a shame.
I love noir-type films. There’s something about the time period most movies use in noir that I love. After seeing the movie I couldn’t wait for the winter to hurry up here so I could bust out my peacoat with my scally cap, the look Edward Norton’s character has most of the movie. The vibe of the city, the score, the wardrobe, it all works for me. I just wish I liked the story more.
I think that’s my biggest issue, the story. There’s nothing exactly wrong with the story, we’ve seen plenty of flicks about corruption, class struggle, race and more especially in this time period. Norton adds a twist in it giving his character Tourette Syndrome which provides pros and cons. His character can remember everything he hears, but his outbursts play more for laughs than anything else. The film got big laughs at times when he would say something bad, but in a movie with a serious tone and story, there shouldn’t be comedic relief. I don’t know if that was Norton’s intend or if the crowd was full of A-holes, but the laughter was out of place for a movie about race and corruption. You’re not paying attention to the story about cover-ups and murder when you’re laughing like it’s a Rob Schneider character.
Like most movies in 2019 it’s way too long. If this was a tighter film about a hundred minutes long, it would be a lot better. Instead it’s over 2 hours long and loses focus at times. I think Norton tries to get too much into it over the course of the movie. His boss is killed and he tries to figure out why. That leads to Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character and her backstory. It opens the door to Alec Baldwin and his backstory along with Willem Dafoe. There’s a jazz club and neighborhood meetings and so much at once. It’s a lot and sure it’s all interconnected, but you could cut one or two of those angles out and still get to the ending.
Motherless Brooklyn is a film I should love. It has a cast I like. I’m actually a huge Edward Norton fan and was curious to see where he was going with this film. He has a lot to say, but I don’t know if it all lands because it’s so long and his character breaks the tension too often. I know some people who really enjoyed it and I understand why. I know someone who liked it even less than I did and I understand why. It probably won’t do much at the box office, won’t get any award attention and will most likely be forgotten pretty quickly unfortunately.
Director: Edward Norton
Writers: Edward Norton, from the novel by Jonathan Lethem
Producers: Bill Migliore, Edward Norton, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane, Michael Bederman
Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Josh Pais, Robert Ray Wisdom, Fisher Stevens, with Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe