Motherless Brooklyn 15
Dir: Edward Norton
Cast: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis
Run Time: 2 Hours 24 Mins
Release Date: Out Now
Based on the 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem, this is a passion project for Edward Norton which took him 20 years to get the greenlight. Since reading the book, Norton would go on to write the adaptation which changed the 1999 setting of the novel to the 1950s as Norton stated “the characters are written in a very 1950s hardboiled detective style … and if we try to make a film about the ’90s in Brooklyn with guys acting like ’50s gumshoes, it will feel ironic.” It was a change that helped the film stand out as noir films are quite an old hat genre. While there are films that have noir influences coursing through their veins there hasn’t been an old fashioned, hard boiled noir film making the rounds in the mainstream landscape of the movies. Motherless Brooklyn has passion that radiates of the screen. The attention to detail in not only the sets, the costumes and the score gives way to a delightful surprise that had me head over heals for it. Pretty alarming considering the muted reception which has been positive but was criticized for the run time, which was no issue to myself as there is so much to love about Edward Norton’s figurative baby.
The film follows Lionel Essrog (Norton) a private eye with Tourette’s syndrome who investigates the murder of a close friend which leads him down a classic noir path of corruption and intrigue. Going above and beyond with writing and directing duties Norton unequivocally kills it as our troubled protagonist in one of his better turns. Playing Lionel in such a way where he isn’t making this bad taste caricature but a sympathetic hero who just happens to have Tourette’s. Norton met and consulted many members of the Tourette’s Association of America to prepare for the role. The supporting cast is also very good with the stand out being Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is extraordinary as Lionel’s love interest Laura Rose who also has shockingly splendid chemistry with Norton and plays Laura with grace and vulnerability.
Throughout Motherless Brooklyn you can feel the passion just exuding off the screen with the impressive direction on display with everything being so authentic to the 50s setting. The production design by Beth Mickle is magnificent, capturing everything from the vehicles right down to the bars and clubs being so real to the era that I felt I could smell the air of 50’s New York along with the gorgeous cinematography by veteran cinematographer Dick Pope. But the music is what drove the film for me. Daniel Pemberton’s score is exquisite, a complete delight to the ears with a jazz score that goes through the emotions beautifully even at one point going full Twin Peaks when the mystery got more intriguing.
Speaking of mystery, the film’s script is so tights and well written were the characters all had this fantastic chemistry and the dialogue was like jam for the soul the plot will have you guessing along with Lionel. Motherless Brooklyn was something that felt hyped for years whenever a report on it came out and now that its been shot, edited and released after two decades, the blood sweat and tears for Norton have payed off. He truly delivers the goods here and while it didn’t make it’s $26 million budget back, I hope this doesn’t deduct the fact that Motherless Brooklyn (in my humble opinion of course) is the real deal and I’ll probably forever be the film’s hype man.
A hard knuckle, remarkable and beautiful noir that transports you into a well crafted 1950s New York but a passion project made with sincere intentions. Norton goes all out on this fully solid noir. Don’t sleep on Motherless Brooklyn.