Motherless Brooklyn Movie Review
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I like Edward Norton. He doesn’t do my kind of movie, but the movies of his I manage to catch, like Motherless Brooklyn, I can get behind. He always plays the charming scamp, the misunderstood romantic, the sympathetic everyman any audience can connect to.
Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) has an incredible mind. It loves to solve puzzles and can recall details from a week ago. Unfortunately with all of that organization comes a crippling case of Tourette’s, which may have had a name in the 1950, but for an orphan raised in a catholic boys’ home, getting it diagnosed was pretty low on the list of things to do. For most of his life, he’s run with his hero and mentor, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) who runs a private investigation company masquerading as a car service. Lionel, affectionally known as “Freakshow” is perfect for surveillance, interrogations and not much else, since being nervous sets off his tics, and that’s something people definitely remember. Frank is on to something huge, something he hasn’t let his crew in on, but it gets him killed. Determined to unravel Frank’s final mystery, Lionel puts his brain to the test, following the clues, retracing Frank’s steps, and uncovering something bigger than a small-time Frank could handle winding back to the very top of Brooklyn’s politics.
A story like Motherless Brooklyn could easily be bogged down with cliché film noir tropes, but Norton takes the modern-set novel and flips it to a stylized 50s viewed through a heavily sentimental lens. Adding character Moses Randolph (Alex Baldwin) adds the expected veneer of New York corruption. Watching the characters work through their tasks without the burden of modern technology shows the wheels working in Lionel’s head. It also frames his disability into just a brain issue that people more or less dismiss. It’s a part of his character that’s not his character’s defining character trait, and how he handles it, mostly with embarrassment and charm. Willem Defoe plays Paul, a man with a vocal grudge against Randolph, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Laura, a woman at the center who’s caught in ways she can’t imagine.
With a running time of 144 minutes, Motherless Brooklyn doesn’t feel like a long movie. It’s well-paces with beats for action, music, and a shy courting. The dialogue is compelling and the characters don’t sound like New York caricatures. There isn’t a one-dimensional player in the bunch from h naturally shifty Danny (Bobby Cannavale) to the Jacob Gleason (Nelson Avidon) who’s identity gets borrowed, but only for the ultimate greater good.
This isn’t my usual fare of film, but I do love a good story that manages to be exciting as well as touching without all of that touchy-feely nonsense. This isn’t an action-packed film by any stretch, but it managed to stay engaging without slipping into the banal and expected.
Motherless Brooklyn is rated R for swears, people getting shot, people bleeding a lot, people getting punched in the face, and people smoking dope.