With MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, actor Edward Norton gets his first credited writing project, and his second directorial feature since the so-so Keeping The Faith, which was almost two decades ago. With his writing/adapting skills (this is based on a novel) I give him some strong applause, but with his directing and egotistical necessity of putting himself as the lead actor in his project…I say better luck next time. There are several problems with the movie, off the top of my head the film was a little bit too light, corny, and cartoon-y to really represent one of those detective “gum shoe” serial noirs of the 30s – 70s. Another problem is that Norton’s performance as a detective that happens to have OCD and tourette’s crosses the line several times of being too over the top for me. And the last major complaint is that the movie is way too long, there were several scenes that could’ve been shortened or cut out altogether to make a tighter two hour movie (it did not need to be almost two and a half hours). But the movie’s dialogue is quite good for me to say that this is a very decent rental, and if you love those “gum shoe” detective noirs of the past and need something to scratch that itch (I can’t remember the last one in theaters), this is right up your alley.
So am I recommending this? Slightly. People have asked me through messenger recently to start giving my movies letter grades, but I don’t want to do that because a lot of you will just start scrolling to the bottom and not really listen to what I have to say. But with this one I’ll make an exception, but I’m going to say it here so you have to find it like you’d try and find Waldo. I’d say a very solid C plus. I think if Norton stuck to just the writing, ditched the directing, and maybe honed his performance a little bit (because I still think Edward Norton is a hell of a great actor), this could’ve been something great. But we all know that Norton has an ego (see his MCU history) and he just couldn’t get out of his own way direction wise. His direction here isn’t one to write home about. He also directed himself in Keeping The Faith. In order to see if Norton really has unique directing chops, I’d like next time for him to maybe write and direct, and NOT be in his movie at all. But with the only two movies of his he has directed and starred in, and both of those being okay (this one is definitely better than his first), I really don’t have much to go on.
What is the movie about? To not spoil anything, Norton plays a associate detective named Lionel Essrog, or “Motherless Brooklyn” to his detective boss Frank Minna, plays by Bruce Willis. Lionel and another guy back up Minna during a meeting of several people, that meeting takes a huge turn and **spoiler alert**, Frank Minna is killed less than 15 minutes into the movie starting (not so spoilery though if you’ve watched the trailer). The rest of the movie has Lionel try to find out what happened to his boss based on what he saw and heard when the meeting went down and Frank’s incoherent last dying words. He gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving a powerful man played by Alec Baldwin and his unstoppable determination to control and build a better community in 1950s Brooklyn. He also runs into a very lovely lady played fantastically by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who may or may not be wrapped up into this layered conspiracy as well. Lionel has to navigate the evidence to find out exactly what is going on his revenge quest while trying not to get killed himself.
The dialogue in this film is great. I would love Norton to maybe get out of the limelight a little bit and adapt novels for other, more establish directors to direct. He’s got a knack for it. His direction here is only a tiny bit more than just point and shoot. But that’s because he’s directing himself, which is probably no easy task, but then again, maybe he should’ve let someone else take the reins so he could concentrate on his performance. His performance isn’t too over the top, I don’t want my words to make you think you have to suspend belief to take his tourette’s OCD personality seriously. About an hour into the film I ended up not puckering up my butt hole so much and got used to it better. In fact, there is one part where his tourette’s made me laugh the hardest I’ve laughed in a theater this year (it involves the F word that isn’t fuck), so I can thank the movie for that. The performance just came off as a little corny and cartoon-y, a little out of place and out of tone with the rest of the noir detective type film. Like trying to mix oil and water. The rest of the cast is great though. Bruce Willis, even though hardly in the film, actually looked like he took the time out of not caring on his many direct to video adventures to give Norton a believable little gig. Alec Baldwin makes for a good “sleezy” Trump type business man (who knew right?! **cue the SNL sarcasm**) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw steals every scene she is in she is so serene and lovely.
The end result (story resolution) though also felt a little too “Chinatown”y, with it being in almost the same “twist and turn” vein as the climax of that film, but with more of a racial overtone and less of an incest one. You’ll see. The film had me guessing though and I didn’t see the ending coming. I just wish it were a little more complicated. There are also several scenes that go on way too long, especially one where Norton has tourette’s in a nightclub, that should’ve been cut way way down. If the movie were edited a little more, it could’ve been a better and more solid two hours. I got bored several times with its uneven pace. But the movie is more original than a lot of the shit we get these days, and it is nice to see something different with the detective “gum shoe” noir being brought back for 2019, so there is that, I ultimately just don’t think the too light of tone worked for me, combined with Norton’s uneven performance and uneven, kind of lazy, direction. But the dialogue is incredible. So if you like films like this, I would recommend that you seek it out. For me, there was just too much evidence that was too light on clues, if that pun makes any sense to you.