‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Review: Edward Norton Cobbles Together a Dense, Rickety Noir | TIFF 2019

Collider | 9/11/2019 | Matt Goldberg
Click For Photo: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/motherless-brooklyn-gugu-mbatha-raw-edward-norton.jpg

I doubt you could really get Chinatown made today. It’s a dense, bleak noir about corruption and American power. The closest you could probably get is Edward Norton’s new movie, Motherless Brooklyn, which lacks the style and competency of the 1974 classic but retains its ambition. Motherless Brooklyn, Norton’s first directorial effort since his 2000 rom-com Keeping the Faith, is clearly a labor of love. It’s an unusual, atypical project that doesn’t check any studio boxes, and it’s not like audiences are chomping at the bit to see a 50s-set noir featuring a protagonist with Tourette’s syndrome. But Norton somehow got it made, and while it’s not terrible, the difficulty of the story required more money and more experience than its writer-director-star could provide.

Set in 1950s New York City, Lionel Essrog (Norton) works at a private detective agency. He suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, both of which he self-medicates by using narcotics. However, he’s a big help to his boss, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) since Lionel also has a photographic memory. When Frank is killed during an investigation, Lionel takes it upon himself to discover why his boss was murdered. He eventually learns that Frank was on the trail of a major corruption case revolving around builder Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), but Lionel’s investigation could also end up endangering social activist Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman he’s developing feelings for.

Image - Warner - Bros

Image via Warner Bros.

I really like the idea of Motherless Brooklyn. There’s nothing wrong with creating dense noir about government corruption (although it’s certainly not ideal to see this movie at 9:15 at night on the sixth day of a film festival like I did). Furthermore, gentrification is a timely topic. Randolph is using eminent domain to force poor people and minorities out of their homes so...
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