Lionel Essrog (Ed Norton) is not your typical private investigator, which is the appeal of Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn. You’d expect a P.I. in 1950s New York to be smooth, street smart, and tough…like the real professional Frank Minna, played by Bruce Willis. Instead, Lionel is afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, severely OCD, and is built like…ugh, Ed Norton. But that’s the charm of Motherless Brooklyn, a crime-noir thriller centering on an unlikely of hero.
The film opens with Lionel and Gilbert (Ethan Suplee) serving as backup for a mysterious meeting with their boss, the above Frank Minna. In the meeting, Frank is extorting an imposing gang of four men with some pictures or documents that he possesses. The men do not take kindly to his threats and kidnap Frank to retrieve the original documents. Lionel and Gilbert unsuccessfully tail the group ending in Frank’s death—shot in an alley.
“Lionel’s relationship with Laura gets complicated and leads to a few beatings and a murder.”
As Frank was the only person in the world to have faith in a Tourettic, OCD Lionel, the case is ultimately finding out who killed Frank and why. The story is set in a time when city officials were gentrifying Brooklyn by displacing its citizens (mostly in the black neighborhoods), promising them new homes, and leaving them high and dry. The man behind the problem is Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) and his business partner, William Lieberman (Josh Pais).
Passing himself off as a reporter, Lionel finds himself in the presence of a community leader, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones) and her associate Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Let’s also add the mysterious Paul (Willem Dafoe) to the mix, who is a mystery man publicly causing problems for Moses and holding a huge secret.
A significant clue to Frank’s death comes in the form of Laura Rose. Lionel’s relationship with Laura gets complicated and leads to a few beatings and a murder. It’s best to keep everything else relatively vague. This is a mystery and if you like mysteries, then hop on board.