Film: Motherless Brooklyn
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Leslie Mann, Bobby Cannavale
Director: Edward Norton
Rating: * * * *
Edward Norton has a penchant for playing flawed Catholics. In Primal Fear, he played an abused altar boy. In Motherless Brooklyn, a neo noir crime drama loosely based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel which Norton has beautifully scripted and directed. He acts (superbly) as Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective in 1950s New York whose neurological affliction, Tourette’s syndrome, is redeemed by an astounding photographic memory.
In Primal Fear, the Catholic clergy came in for bashing; in Motherless Brooklyn, it’s the nuns who raised Lionel in an orphanage, of which he has unhappy memories, mitigated by detective Frank Minna who took him and some other orphans under his wing.
Essrog refuses to be handicapped by Tourette’s syndrome as he sets out to solve the murder of Frank (Bruce Willis) who was investigating shady real estate deals. Obsessed with bringing his saviour’s killers to justice, the ‘freak show’ aka titular “Brooklyn” prowls across the mean streets, to stumble on secrets while contending with crooks, rascals, racists and powerful NYC bureaucrat Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin).
Essrog also meets Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a social activist fighting Randolph’s latest housing ‘development’ project, Moses’ wild eyed brother Paul (Willem Dafoe) and jazz trumpeter (Michael Kenneth Williams).
Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn is a lengthy, complex narrative enhanced by a jazz soundtrack and the sweet connect between Laura and Lionel whose vulgar outpourings can be off-putting. But in the end, compassion, courage, perseverance, the assertion that ethics and morality matter, and the brilliant cast, makes the film well worth a watch.