06 December 2019 16:39
Motherless Brooklyn has all the elements to make a great crime drama, but it meanders its way into the meh. The film was a passion project for writer, director, producer and star Edward Norton and he takes the lead role of private investigator Lionel Essrog, a man who becomes set on getting to the bottom of the suspicious killing of his friend and mentor. Set in 1950s New York, but based on a novel of the same name set in the 1990s, Norton goes noir and though the storyline itself, and the look and feel of the film, promise something great, the execution doesn't hit the mark. As the political element to the story kicks in and solid performances from Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe come forward, that's where the real story is and where intrigue lies for the audience, but the disjointed way of dealing with the subplots and bringing the moving pieces together feels somewhat self-indulgent. Motherless Brooklyn, review: an evocative, entertaining, old-fashioned gumshoe noir Willem Dafoe's engineer with Edward Norton's fledgling gumshoe in Motherless Brooklyn (Photo: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.
Motherless Brooklyn (15) ★★★ Edward Norton has wanted to adapt Motherless Brooklyn since Jonathan Lethem's acclaimed novel was published 20 years ago. And his film (as producer, writer, director and star) is an obvious labour of love, an evocative, entertaining, old-fashioned gumshoe noir, which fits snugly within the traditions of the genre while offering a refreshingly atypical hero. Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a fledgling private eye with Tourette's syndrome, who can't help but fire off spontaneous, unfiltered, outlandish and often offensive comments, especially when under pressure. Lionel (Edward Norton) is a fledgling private eye with Tourette's syndrome who can't help firing offensive comments when under pressure (Photo: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros. Even his friends lose patience, while obsessive tics make it impossible for the poor man to flirt: trying to light a cigarette for a beautiful woman in a bar, he blows out the match before it reaches her lips, over and over again.
Norton also changes the plot dramatically, drawing his gumshoe into a world of corrupt city politics – personified by Alec Baldwin's brilliantly venal Moses Randolph, whose idea of "slum clearance" is to rid New York of African Americans and Jews. Others involved in the intrigue include Paul (Willem Dafoe), an engineer who has complicated motives for his public attacks on Randolph, and Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whose investigations into city development appear to put her life at risk, and with whom Lionel falls in love. Motherless Brooklyn duo Edward Norton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw have discussed how the new movie acts as a "love letter" to the Big Apple. Adapted from Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel of the same name, this neo-noir thriller follows the trials and tribulations of Norton's dysfunctional private investigator Lionel Essrog as he uncovers a dark undercurrent existing in 1950s New York. Kicking back with Digital Spy recently, Laura Rose actress Gugu weighed in on how the movie transports New York's unique beauty to the screen.
Related: Edward Norton's film production company sued over fatal fire "This really feels like a love letter to New York," the star reflected. "It's the kind of film you don't often see made anymore and I think for me to be able to work with this phenomenal cast of actors – you know, really seasoned New York theatre-based movie stars – was just such a challenge and a treat." Meanwhile, director and leading man Norton also waxed lyrical about his collaborators on Motherless Brooklyn – acclaimed cinematographer Dick Pope being one of them – and praised them for elevating his period piece with their unparalleled work. Motherless Brooklyn is out now in cinemas. Just hit 'Like' on our Digital Spy Facebook page and 'Follow' on our @digitalspy Instagram and Twitter accounts. Motherless Brooklyn star Gugu Mbatha-Raw believes the 1950s-set noir's themes around "abuse of power and gentrification" are incredibly relevant today. The British actor's character in the detective thriller is a campaigner against the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods in New York City. She becomes a part of the investigation being carried out by gumshoe Lionel Essrog — portrayed by Edward Norton, who also writes and directs — into the mysterious death of his mentor (Bruce Willis). Read more: Norton says Fight Club gives him confidence for Motherless Brooklyn The actor told Yahoo Movies UK that the film has plenty of nods to the politics and society of today. "There are many contemporary resonances in this film to do with abuse of power and gentrification and how cities are run, which is really very resonant today," said Mbatha-Raw. Gugu Mbatha-Raw in 'Motherless Brooklyn'. Mbatha-Raw played an 18th century heiress in Belle and also starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in American Civil War drama Free State of Jones, as well as taking on a role in this year's Farming — a tale of racism in 1980s Britain. Read more: Edward Norton reveals what his Hulk sequels would've been like "Obviously we're not doing a documentary but I think, for me, it's fun to be able to feel like you're time travelling," Mbatha-Raw said. "Looking at this film, this is definitely like a sort of Chinatown for New York. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton in 'Motherless Brooklyn'. Edward Norton's second ever film as director – he previously helmed the critically acclaimed romantic comedy Keeping the Faith in 2000 – almost didn't see the light of day. A passion project which has been almost two decades in the making, Motherless Brooklyn offers another chance for Norton to showcase his peerless acting chops as well as his writing and producing abilities. Adapted from Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel of the same name, this ambitious hard-boiled neo-noir tells the story of a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome who attempts to solve a murder and finds himself implicated in a political scandal in the process. Although the book is set in contemporary times, Norton took the bold decision to set his film in the 1950s because he felt that the premise and dialogue lent themselves to an old fashioned hard-boiled story. When his boss and mentor Frank Minna (Buce Willis) is shot and killed whilst negotiating a top secret deal in broad daylight, private detective Lionel Essrog (Norton) is devastated by the loss. Things are further complicated when Lionel finds clues left by Frank that lead him straight into the arms of Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young African-American who works for a charity fighting gentrification and opposing the destruction of homes in poor and minority neighbourhoods. Norton has given us a beautifully layered, smart and thoroughly engaging neo-noir that isn't afraid of wearing its heart firmly on its sleeve from the get go. Edward Norton gives a truly extraordinary and visceral performances that sets him apart from the rest from the first moment you lay eyes on him. For her part, Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a beautifully measured and underrated performance, demonstrating once again that she truly is the real deal. There is way more than first meets the eye in this unique take on the noir genre from an actor-director-writer-producer you can't help but root for.