In ‘Motherless Brooklyn,’ Edward Norton Takes on Timeless Power Struggles

Variety | 11/16/2019 | Will Tizard
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In Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” the ‘50s-set New York noir detective story he produced, directed, wrote and stars in, politics are never far from the surface. But they’re not the obvious parallels to any racist autocrats from New York of modern times, but instead focus on more timeless politics – the way disabled people and minorities are marginalized by powerful, monied interests.

Norton, at Poland’s 27th EnergaCamerimage cinematography festival to accept the Krzysztof Kieslowski prize, says these elements seemed deeply in tune with the period of the film, which he changed from Jonathan Lethem’s novel, set in modern times.

Plot - Character - Lionel - Essrog - Uncovers

So the plot that your character, Lionel Essrog, uncovers in the film while battling his own Tourette-like syndrome, was this inspired by some of the work you do with non-profits in affordable housing?

In the plot in the book, the crime had to do with the Yakuza and the sea urchin markets and these things. Jonathan said to me once, ‘I wrote a B-plus plot for an A-plus character.’ He’s the first to say it’s kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine, an excuse to see Lionel work his way through the world. It’s like the way “The Usual Suspects” isn’t “about anything.”

Authenticity - Details - City - Landscape

But you’re quite religious about authenticity in details about the city as a noir landscape.

Lethem grew up in Brooklyn and he’s a real student of not only New York and Brooklyn and noir and his book has what I would call kind of a meta-noir surrealism. The characters feel a little bit out of time. They call Lionel “freakshow”. They’re hardboiled in a Chandler kind of way and I told him, “I’m a little worried that in film that would feel like ‘The Blues Brothers.’” I kind of think we’re better served with going with the aesthetic of the book and a...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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