In his sophomore directing effort, Edward Norton aims to make a gritty drama set on the streets of 1950s New York, but a lack of narrative spark sends this one sailing way off course.
"Motherless Brooklyn" is a story about the little guy, fighting against corruption and the abuse of power. Gumshoe detective Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a strange man, afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome which causes him to shout out at random. Norton can be applauded for bringing a character like Lionel to the big-screen, as Tourette's is not something that is often dealt with in mainstream pop culture - in any serious way at least - and it's a bold tick to play with coming from an actor directing himself.
But Lionel's personality traits are not what's wrong with the rudderless, "Motherless Brooklyn." The story feels like an old crime mystery that might have played late night on Cinemax back in the 80s, and that's also the exact tone that Norton might have been shooting for. But the film is much ado about nothing, and just doesn't land a single emotional punch. It deals with caricatures and clichés, none of which materialize into anything remotely worth caring about.
When Lionel's mentor and hero is murdered, Lionel gets entangled in a world full of bad guys, from the street level up to the corporate sky-rises of New York, as he tries to find the killer. An activist lawyer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a crooked real estate baron (Alec Baldwin), a mysterious man (Willem Dafoe) and a jazz musician (Michael Kenneth Williams) find themselves embroiled in the melodrama as well, as does - unfortunately - the audience that is forced to watch it all unfold, with little to no reward for doing so.
At a painfully overlong 144 minutes, "Motherless Brooklyn" will leave you hailing for the nearest NY taxi cab to come and take you far, far away.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 24 minutes.
Based on the novel Jonathan Lethem.
Starring: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams.
Written and Directed by Edward Norton ("Keeping the Faith").
"Motherless Brooklyn" opens theatrically on Friday, November 1st, 2019.
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