Actor Edward Norton returns to the director’s chair almost two decades after his directorial debut with the crime drama Motherless Brooklyn. In addition to directing, Norton wrote, produced, and starred in the film based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem. The film centers around Lionel Essrog (Norton), a private investigator with Tourette syndrome as he tries to solve the mystery behind the death of fellow PI and mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Taking on multiple production roles, Norton’s labor of love showcases his remarkable sense of style in this creative adaptation.
Norton’s adaptation sets itself apart from the novel. Set in 1999 while Norton ships the characters back half a century to the 1950s. Doing so allows for the characters to investigate a much greater villain than expected. With the addition of Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the community-minded lawyer, her connection with Lionel brought together by government corruption transforms into a pure romance that offers a breather in this perplexing mystery.
Right off the bat, Lionel draws the audience in with what he calls the threads in his head – which he can’t let go until he’s unraveled the entire sweater. This “loose thread” causes him to twitch, repeatedly do simple tasks, and burst out saying inappropriate and random things. Norton’s portrayal of a man with Tourette syndrome is believable and perfectly timed with wit. What’s astonishing about Lionel is that he is a character who’d usually be put in a supporting role but instead is now the unique, peculiar leading man we want to root for.
Cinematographer Dick Pope exquisitely tackles the film noir aesthetic generating a cinematically stunning experience. The film’s color grading offers a reminiscence of the classic black and white film noirs. Nominated twice for an Academy Award in Cinematography (The Illusionist and Mr. Turner) Pope’s skill is one of the greatest qualities of this film. Some of the best scenes are those with a heavy use of angles, close ups, and reflections. Partnered with an eerie and itching score by two-time Golden Globe nominee Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs and Gold), Motherless Brooklyn is an intricately designed film.
Running at 144 minutes long, this is not a short film to sit through. Lionel discovers the first loose thread, which leads him on his journey of uncovering and stopping the government corruption in the city. And he leads us through all the twists and turns as he solves the unpacks the mysteries behind Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin).
Having watched the film during Miami Film Festival’s GEMS, Motherless Brooklyn was a surprise favorite. Lionel is an oddball I rooted for who pulled me through this complicated story of corruption and betrayal. It may be difficult to follow and be longer than its competitors, Motherless Brooklyn stands out as unique drama that’ll stand out in theaters.
Motherless Brooklyn is set to hit theaters on November 1, 2019.
Julia Burgos, an English major pursuing the Film Studies Certificate, is hopeful she’ll complete her senior year with minimal sleep deprivation.