Posted Oct 24 2019

Motherless Brooklyn - This Movie Pretty Much Rocks - It Just Takes A Long-Time To Do So

Dir: Edward Norton

Starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Mann, Cherry Jones, Fisher Stevens, Dallas Roberts

There is a certain degree of self-indulgence in Edward Norton’s second movie as director – he also adds writer, producer and lead actor to that former role, with the performance based around a 1950s private dick with Tourette’s – it does feel at times like the man is literally begging for an Oscar!

But it would be churlish to deny that there’s a lot of good work on display here – most notably in its opening half hour and its closing same, both of which prove adroit at tension-building. In between, Norton the director has a tendency to meander, to the detriment of his movie.

Norton the actor meanwhile plays Lionel Essrog, a former orphanage kid with mental health issues – “glass in my brain,” “rescued” by Bruce Willis’ mentor private eye, who takes to investigating the death of said mentor and opening a whole can of political worms in the New York of the 1950s.

Adapted (by Norton) from the best-seller by Jonathan Lethem, there’s a whole big lot of Chinatown in Motherless Brooklyn, but little of the resonance and certainly even less of the economy of that movie.

Norton’s film may well sprawl but it includes a clutch of stand-out performances, none less than Willis who – for the first time in years – looks like he actually cares about what he’s doing. And that in itself is a sight to see, bringing a genuine, and well executed, sense of impending doom to the film’s opening act. Along the way, Alec Baldwin excels in a performance that, ironically, isn’t a million miles away from his repeated Trump turn on SNL, whilst Gugu makes the most of a role that falls into an unrealistic romantic trap, and Cannavale is excellent as always. As for Leslie Mann – well, she’s Leslie Mann – and that’s always great.

Which brings us to Norton himself, going for the afflicted stand out turn. And for the most part he nails it. Yes, there are times when his tics, outbursts and mannerisms threaten to seem too heavy handed or, even, too random – chew some gum and he seems to be OK. But the quality of his performance outshines such thoughts – it is, ultimately, measured, well judged and sincere.

Too many jazz interludes – and certainly not Chinatown – but an intriguing film nonetheless.


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