I haven’t seen a crime thriller this good since L.A. Confidential. As the lead detectives in that film were mugging for Hollywood publicity and political advancement, Motherless Brooklyn is the exact opposite. As Lionel, Norton plays him as the underdog investigating a case that’s way over his head. As you would imagine, with his affliction, his ticks are continually getting in the way of finding the truth and communicating with the key players. But it also has its advantages as Lionel has heightened photographic memory.
It would be tempting to write off the Tourette’s and the OCD as a bold, yet condescending, character choice on Ed Norton’s part, but both play an integral role in the story and in solving the case (not saying that he solves it, but c’mon…you know). I suppose much public criticism will surface, but Norton pulls it off with dignity and services the story…arguably. He is a sympathetic character and you’ll feel Lionel’s moment-to-moment frustrations. There’s this underlying tension you feel watching the film, which weirdly connects you with Lionel as well as leaves you subliminally stressed and physically exhausted at the end.
“He is a sympathetic character and you’ll feel Lionel’s moment-to-moment frustrations.”
Motherless Brooklyn is a long-a*s movie clocking in at almost two and a half hours. The pacing is good, but there’s a lot of story to tell, a lot of side journeys, and a lot of details to remember. To Norton’s credit, you’ll be able to follow not only the clues but the elaborate conspiracy underneath that’s slowly and dangerously unraveling. It should also be noted that Motherless Brooklyn was adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s novel of the same name, but takes place in modern times. Norton brilliantly adapted the story to 1950s New York and amazingly works.
What also helps is this amazing ensemble Norton’s put together. I’ve already mentioned Willis, Baldwin, and Dafoe, but there are Lionel’s partners Suplee, Bobby Cannavale, and Dallas Roberts. A great deal of suspense takes place at a Jazz Club that Laura’s father Billy (Robert Wisdom) owns, and traveling trumpeter extraordinaire Trumpet Man (Michael Kenneth Williams) also performs at the club. Yes, jazz plays a significant role in both the score and the story. Fisher Stevens also shows up as a goon.
Motherless Brooklyn is a big story with large moving pieces, told from the point-of-view of a very complex and complicated character. It’s a huge movie taking place in a small borough that Ed Norton wrote, starred, and directed. I’m physically exhausted just thinking about it, but it’s worth taking the journey.
"…a time when city officials were gentrifying Brooklyn by displacing its citizens..."