Motherless Brooklyn


Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton, 2019) wr. Edward Norton, novel by Jonathan Lethem; Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Leslie Mann, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin; release 1 November

In 1950s New York, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend.

The Tourette's thing in this film is much less annoying than it is in Joker (if that's what it is there). In that film, it has a single thematic connexion with the plot, which is not nearly enough to justify the endless spates of Phoenix's laughing. In this case, it conveys attitudes which would otherwise be concealed (if you can catch whatever it is Norton's saying), leads to outcomes (he gets beaten up more than once), and also provides a link to the growth of the relationship between the two main (m & f) characters.

The film is too long. Even with its fairly complicated plot, it could have been written in 90 pages, instead of the 144 Norton ended up with. Baldwin's style of acting is fairly wooden - especially now he has thickened up so much, but he nevertheless gives a powerful performance the film could not have done without. I was disappointed to see so little of Bruce Willis - and so much of Bobby Cannavale. Willem Dafoe is a wild card, and I would not have cast him in this role. Only about half of what he does seems right to me.

After Uncut Gems, this story seemed to be well and simply told, almost (but not quite) justifying its length.

I'm not a big jazz fan, but have to say that the music is very nice indeed. Apparently that's Wynton Marsalis's trumpet we hear.

Thanks to Wikipedia editors for this compilation of reactions:
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, writing, "It's a heavy meal to digest, but this is a strong, vehement film with a real sense of time and place." A. O. Scott of The New York Times called it "a very smart movie, bristling with ideas about history, politics, art and urban planning." Matt Zoller Seitz of gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, praising "the unabashedly political nature of the project." Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a grade of B−, commenting that the film "at least does justice to its source material by transforming the plight of urban development into an immersive shaggy dog story." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, writing, "it's Norton's own performance that brings emotional connection to Motherless Brooklyn." Peter Debruge of Variety commented that "Lionel represents both an enormous new challenge and an incredibly unique variation on the otherwise worn-out private eye archetype."
Chris Tilly of IGN gave the film a 6.6 out of 10, writing, "The film has much to say about discrimination and inequality, but while the central detective story is intriguing, the movie all-too-often gets sidetracked down narrative cul de sacs, giving the 144-minute film serious pacing issues, and making it a frequently frustrating watch." Jake Cole of Slant Magazine gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars, writing, "Motherless Brooklyn feels altogether too tidy, a film that revives many of the touchstones of noir, but never that throbbing unease that courses through the classics of the genre." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "stylishly made, politically driven, musically arresting, narratively confusing and, at nearly two-and-a-half hours, far too long."

References and Links

IMDb page.
Wikipedia page.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 18 February, 2020 | Now: 21 March, 2020