It’s a challenge to successfully write, direct and star in a big-budget, Hollywood film. And three time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton proves exactly that with his new film “Motherless Brooklyn”. This is a detective mystery drama based on a 1999 novel about the interweaving of crime, politics and romance in 1950s New York City.
Norton’s character is Lionel Essrog, a private eye with Tourette’s Syndrome. He’s whip-smart and inquisitive, but his condition constantly gets in the way. When Lionel’s friend and boss Frank Minna (played by Bruce Willis) dies while investigating a case, Lionel makes it his mission to find out how he ended-up on the wrong side of things.
Norton goes overboard in the first act, hoping to capture the look and feel of classic detective/noir movies. The gumshoe dialogue, cartoon characters and set design is piled high. But it’s all very disingenuous. The topper is Leslie Mann’s bad blonde wig and accent as Minna’s not-so grieving wife.
Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Dafoe are supporting players who each claim their territory as the plot — revolving around real estate corruption in the borough — gets more and complex. And yet, you know exactly every move Lionel’s going to make: when he’ll find a clue, when he’ll recall a key moment, and when he’ll get clubbed over the head from behind by a thug.
Whodunnit? Who cares! The slow pacing, heavy foreshadowing and non-stop talking makes sticking with “Motherless Brooklyn” a thankless experience. Not to mention Norton’s constant use of Tourette’s for both laughs and intentional story progression.
Michael K. Williams plays a character known only as “Trumpet Man”. The over reliance of the jazz soundtrack is an another attempt by Norton to create a mood and level of importance that just isn’t there.
As hard as it tries (and it really tries), forget it Jake, this ISN’T “Chinatown”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Motherless Brooklyn” gets a D.
Running Time: 144 min.