Friday, November 1, 2019

Motherless Brooklyn

With Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton stars, directs, and adapted the novel of the same name. It's in his choices, and likely his performance, where you will decide what you think of the film. Moving the events back in time allows the story to be reframed as a noir fitting our detective's narration and the style of a gumshoe tale.

Motherless Brooklyn is shown from the perspective of private detective Lionel Essrog (Norton). Despite being burdened with tics he cannot control, Lionel is the star of Frank Minna's (Bruce Willis) P.I. business (and car service). But when something goes wrong on a case it falls to Lionel to step-up and unravel a web of criminal conspiracy and murder.

If you can accept Norton's showcasing Lionel's tics the film will likely work for you, as it did for me. The character is fascinating and we do see how his nature helps him in other aspects of his job, while admittedly leading to some problems dealing with people. Norton builds on his performance and the strengths of a novel to create a smart and entertaining film (even if it isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is).

Along with Norton's peformance, there are some intriguing pieces to the film including the running gag of Lionel stealing the identity of a reporter (Josh Pais) in order to dig more deeply into the policies of a city bureaucrat (Alec Baldwin), uncover the motives of a public rights activist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and navigate the complexities of Minna's office which are thrown into turmoil. Far from a joke, Lionel is the smartest man of the room of pretty much any room he walks into. He's also personally motivated, partly with what happens to his boss and partly with his makeup just not allowing him to leave a mystery unsolved, to see the case through to the end.

I'm a sucker for detective movies and Norton delivers a pretty good mystery centered around an intriguing central figure. While I think the film shows it's hand a bit too much in terms of foreshadowing on small things to help showoff Lionel's skills, I was completely onboard with watching Lionel put the pieces together. Along the way Norton delivers some great scenes including dancing with Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in her father's night club and, despite his tics, finding a way to continually elicit information out of those who, whether they know it or not, have pieces to the puzzle his mind is determined to solve.

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