By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn has acclaimed actor Edward Norton pulling triple duty as screenwriter, director, and lead. If one knows even just a little bit about the process of feature film production, then it is clear that this is no easy feat. Norton has already proved himself as an actor and showed some proficiency while juggling dual duties as director and actor of 2000’s Keeping the Faith. However, to pull off this triple threat shows that the man has some mad skills, and that’s exactly what he does. With solid writing, skillful direction and a fantastic performance in the lead, Edward Norton has succeeded in all of these avenues.
Norton stars as Tourette syndrome afflicted Lionel Essrog, an employee of private investigator Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). The year is 1957 and the setting is New York City. Gumshoe Minna must meet with some mysteriously shady figures and requests backup from employees Essrog and Gilbert Coney (Ethan Suplee). The meeting goes completely awry with Lionel’s boss ending up dead. Obsessive and compulsive about tying up loose ends and answering lingering questions, the socially awkward and Tourette troubled Essrog assumes the role of private dick and attempts to solve Minna’s murder.
As I stated above, Edward Norton has succeeded in making a great film with Motherless Brooklyn. Norton obviously has a great love for detective noir cinema and definitely has much love for the source material. Though the movie does occasionally drag and run on a tad too long, the overall product plays out as a highly lovable homage to a genre of cinema that makes an appearance every once in a while. Norton not only works some magic behind the scenes, but is even more magical as the lead character.
Norton has such a tremendous knack for portraying idiosyncratic characters or characters with rare conditions or afflictions. As Lionel Essrog, the supremely talented actor manages to present what could’ve been a thin caricature and portrays him as a genuine person. And he actually manages to portray Lionel as a charismatic leading man, despite the disability. Norton shares a wonderful chemistry with his co-star Gugu Mbatha Raw who portrays Laura Rose, a love interest and person indirectly involved in his case. The movie also features a strong turns by Alec Baldwin who portrays scheming politician Moses Randolph, and Willem Dafoe who stars as his troubled brother Paul. The movie can also boast great work and appearances by Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael K. Williams, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee, Josh Pais, Fisher Stevens, and Bruce Willis.
This year, the Austin Film Festival screened Motherless Brooklyn and received an undeniably positive response from the audience. AFF prides itself as a festival that supports and celebrates the writer as a vital component of the film making process. Edward Norton definitely shows some talent and skill in that department in addition to his other major duties for his passion project. Motherless Brooklyn opens in theaters November 1, 2019 and is a movie I highly recommend.