Review: Motherless Brooklyn (2019 San Diego Film Festival)

Title: Motherless Brooklyn
MPAA writing: R
Director: Edward Norton
Starring: Edward Norton, Dallas Roberts, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin
Runtime: 2 hours 24 minutes

What It Is: A noir murder mystery that follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) on his quest to discover the killers, and reasoning behind the death of his mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).

What We Think: Edward Norton’s ambition has always made him a standout actor, this film proves he puts no less effort in as a director. It’s highly ambitious; from its labyrinthine storyline to its cinematic resurrection of the noir film affair, Norton leaves little doubt that he’s as meticulous behind the camera as he is in front of it.

The celluloid smorgasbord (check that trademark phrase) of darkened 1950’s New York, filled with men in fedoras tinged with Brooklyn assumptions, follows a bumpy path. Norton’s depiction of Lionel Essrog’s Tourettes is distracting at times, and questionable by a lot. He seems to struggle with a combination of ailments, some of which flirt with the superheroic. Yet his astounding gifts only seem to gain him a beating at every turn, feeding into an overused storyline of victimhood.

This seemingly ablest view of Lionel makes it all the more confusing when Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) seems enthralled by his quirky inability to take care of himself. Dismissing the Woody Allen effect that underlies all male-driven Hollywood films, the relationship between the two characters seems awkward. Laura smiles and laughs when Lionel suffers an outburst, making it seem almost derivative of sympathy rather than building an emotional bond. It left me more uncomfortable than rooting for their predictable coupling.

And one wants to root for Lionel to have a powerful moment, one that falls outside of the realm of trying to understand if Norton’s protagonist is either a very unlucky genius or a very lucky moron. His issues don’t truly seem to stem from the confusing symptoms that ail him as much as the fact that he seems to function fine until the storyline needs it.

Our Grade: B-, Despite a powerhouse of skill assembled in the film, it feels too long and too predictable to achieve its true expectations. Director Edward Norton, God bless him, respects his audience so much that he creates a trifle of a script that gorges the watcher in story parts, only to have an expected outcome. Watching Norton is always filling, and the political corruption feels, even more, as reality considering the current climate, but at almost 2 hours and a half, it will more than likely remain a film debated for its artistic qualifications versus its actual impact.

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nikayaya Written by: