Widely acclaimed as one of his generation’s finest actors, Edward Norton proves his skill behind the camera in this inventive crime saga. Marked by a deep sense of place and compelling performances from a cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Dafoe , Motherless Brooklyn is an offbeat detective story in which the hero seeks both to solve a murder and illuminate his own origins.
As young orphans, Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) and his three closest friends were taken under the wing of Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Minna would send the boys on errands, arming them with street smarts, attitude, and a sense of purpose. When Minna is shot and left for dead, Lionel is determined to solve this crime, plunging him into a Brooklyn underworld riddled with colorful characters and enemies passing as old friends.
Although there have been a few films here and there with characters who have Tourette’s syndrome (Front of the Class, The Tic Code, The Road Within, Hello, My Name is Frank), Norton brings compassion and humor to Lionel, whose Tourette’s inevitably leads to some interesting situations. What’s compelling about Norton’s work is that he frequently takes on characters which appear broken in some way (Primal Feat, American History X), all while not making them victims. I was smitten with how compassionate the characters inhabiting Lionel’s world were to his condition. It was considerate and sweet, yet not condescending.
Alec Baldwin is deliciously menacing as the Mob Boss Moses Randolph and Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays Laura Rose with such simple, complex, mysterious compassion that she captures your attention and keeps it. Acclaimed cinematographer Dick Pope gorgeously recreates a 1950s Brooklyn with an alluring specificity and costume designer Amy Roth brings the elegance, style and glamour to the decade with grace and class. Jazz music plays a large part is practically treated as if it were an additional scripted character, weaving musically between dialogue thanks to genius compositions of Daniel Pemberton.
As Director, Producer and lead actor, Norton brings a film noir vibe to Motherless Brooklyn that is most refreshing. However, the film does run a tad long getting a little off track for a minute. But, when it does regain focus in the third act of the film it is simply stellar.