Rating: 6/10 (Decent Detective Drama)
Cast: Bruce Willis ,Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Suplee, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Josh Pais , Bobby Cannavale
Director: Edward Norton
Writer (based on the novel): Jonathan Lethem
Writer: Edward Norton
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Editor: Joe Klotz
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Runtime: 144 minutes
What happens when a trailer looks amazing and the movie doesn't live upto the expectations? The result is Motherless Brooklyn.
Writer and Director Edward Norton has a lot to chew and gives a period take on it's modern source material in Motherless Brooklyn. Detective Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) is trying to solve a murder in Brooklyn that heavily involves a corrupt highway department and speaks of the abuse of power.
Norton, who is already a fantastic actor himself pushes his limits and delivers a stunning performance as man affected with Tourettes Syndrome. While the disability should be something that is acknowledged, it instead ends up becoming a tool for comic relief due to the often odd and unpredictable situations Norton's character gets put in.
Featuring an ensemble cast, Bruce Willis is apt as Frank, Lionel's boss and mentor.
Alec Baldwin is extremely convincing as the power hungry Moses Randolph. It's almost as if the actor is playing himself and channeling his inner personality in the role which really adds to the conviction of the performance.
Willem Dafoe is terrific as always as Paul, an investigative journalist who tries to help Norton along the way. Gugu Mbatha Raw's role is central to the plot and she does a fine job.
The other cops played by Bobby Cannavale and Ethan Suplee are adequate. Cannavale in particular does a role he's far too used by now. The rest of the cast is apt and fit all their respective roles very well.
Contrary to the popular belief, this is Norton's 2nd film as a director and not his directorial debut. His first was Keeping Up with the Faith, a hilarious take on a love triangle between a Jewish Rabbi and Catholic priest who fall for the same girl. Almost 20 years later, Norton once again wields the mic. And one can easily say he falls short of delivering what could be so much more. Motherless Brooklyn has been a passion project for Norton ever since he read the book, but it seems he was so fascinated and enamored by the idea that when it came, he just couldn't translate his vision onto the screen.
Motherless Brooklyn is by no means a bad film. But you often need a solid pace and constant guessing and mystery surrounding what the conclusion will be. Motherless Brooklyn has a very slow and adequate first half. Norton's introduction and the Tourette's syndrome keep you entertained throughout and the 2nd half of the movie is well written when the mystery and proceedings start to speed up. The themes of abuse of power and racism are featured prominently in this film and Norton does a fine job of depicting these subtly.
They all come to fruition in the climax and they are very relevant to today's times and leave an impact on the narrative and the viewer. The problem lies therein where the jargon and unnecessary scenes and pace test the patience of the audience who expected a lot more in the 1st half.
In the end, one feels that a better director could have done wonders for Motherless Brooklyn and made it a riveting detective drama than the output Norton has given. His acting capabilities aren't the same as his directorial ones and wielding one too many hats on the overall production makes Motherless Brooklyn feel like a slightly missed opportunity in the end to make something amazing.
Technically, most Hollywood productions seem to be very sound. With a 30 million budget, the look and feel of the film is excellent. The Music by Daniel Pemberton, Cinematography by Dick Pope, Costume Design by Amy Roth, Production Design by Beth Mickle, Sound Mixing by Danny Michael, and the Art Direction by Michael Ahern are all fantastic. The cinematography in particular feature very vibrant or very dark visuals as more than half the film is shot at night. The only complaint would have to be the Editing by Joe Klotz. At 144 minutes and the sluggish first half, the movie does seem like a chore at times.
Coming to the flaws, most of them were explained before. The script seems overstuffed and the length makes it a drag despite the performances. Perhaps the modern setting would have been better suited than the period era that Norton's production looks for. It's almost as if Norton's goal was to make a an old school Sherlock Holmes type drama set in the past and give a very neo-noir vibe to the overall aesthetic of the entire production and he does succeed to an extent. It's just not as engaging or riveting as one could hope for it to be.
Warners Brothers should be commended for taking a risk and green lighting this film. Despite its flaws, it's always nice to see movies like Motherless Brooklyn get made because it makes people have hope that original stories or adapted stories can survive and coincide with the blockbuster and franchise obsession that has plagued the world's most iconic film industry.
Overall, Motherless Brooklyn is a decent crime drama powered by Edward Norton's stunning performance as Lionel Essrog. Despite the slugging first half, slow pace, and excessive length, it's offset by a solid 2nd half, a solid mystery at its core, and meaningful climax with themes that are sure to resonate with present day.
If you're a fan of Edward Norton or detective movies, give Motherless Brooklyn a watch. Just make sure you have plenty of energy. And patience.