Motherless Brooklyn: Film Review

Motherless Brooklyn is clearly a passion project for Edward Norton – not only does he star in almost every scene, but he also directed and produced the film and wrote the screenplay, adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s novel, which he has been trying to bring to the big screen for almost 20 years. Although his performance is tremendous, the film itself has serious issues with length, pacing and narrative.

In this neo-noir crime drama, set in 1950s New York, Norton plays Lionel, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and works at a private detective agency. One day, his boss Frank (Bruce Willis) is killed during a meeting and Lionel makes it his mission to find out what business he had got himself caught up in.

First things first, Norton is terrific. I haven’t seen him give a truly great performance in a long time and Motherless Brooklyn serves as a reminder of how talented he can be. People with Tourette’s may have issues with his portrayal of it but I thought he conveyed Lionel’s tics and twitches very well and didn’t oversell it or play it for laughs. It must be difficult to portray that believably and Norton does a fantastic job. Lionel was actually my favourite aspect of the movie – he was well-written and acted, his narration was captivating, he was different and intriguing.

So it’s such a shame that the plot of the film didn’t grip me at all. It had a couple of thrilling moments but it largely felt super slow and too long. Lionel’s investigation leads him to the world of the borough council, lead by Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), and Paul (Willem Dafoe), Gabby (Cherry Jones) and Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who are campaigners against the council’s gentrification plans. I had trouble following the story and keeping track of who was who and the complex web of lies. I was hoping it would come to some shocking conclusion but it didn’t quite deliver on that.

Norton has assembled a terrific cast. Besides himself, the standouts were Dafoe, who is on a roll at the moment, Bobby Cannavale as his fellow investigator Tony and Leslie Mann as Frank’s wife Julia – it was a small role, but I love her.

If it wasn’t for Norton’s performance, his captivating character and his impressive cast, I would have been very bored with Motherless Brooklyn. The premise is strong and the plot is ambitious but sadly, it didn’t excite me at all.

In cinemas now 

Rating: 3/5

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