wed 28/10/2020

Motherless Brooklyn review – tic tec | reviews, news & interviews

Motherless Brooklyn review – tic tec

Motherless Brooklyn review – tic tec

Edward Norton brings his long-awaited adaptation of the noir novel to the screen

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton in 'Motherless Brooklyn'

Edward Norton has wanted to adapt Motherless Brooklyn since Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed novel was first published 20 years ago.

Edward Norton has wanted to adapt Motherless Brooklyn since Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed novel was first published 20 years ago. His film (as producer, writer, director and star) is an obvious labour of love, an evocative, entertaining, old-fashioned gumshoe noir, which fits snugly within the traditions of the genre while offering a refreshingly atypical hero.

Forget Bogart’s Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, or Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes – sharply tailored, fast-talking, ineffably cool. Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a fledgling private eye with Tourette’s Syndrome, who can’t help but fire off spontaneous, unfiltered, outlandish and often offensive comments, especially when under pressure. Even his friends lose patience, while obsessive tics make it impossible for the poor man to flirt: trying to light a cigarette for a beautiful woman in a bar, he blows out the match before it reaches her lips, over and over again.

Lionel is a mess; as he puts it in his voiceover, “I got threads in my heads.” On the plus side, his watertight memory and obsessive need to make sense of things are useful tools for a sleuth. At first, though, he’s just an assistant, to Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), the man who rescued Lionel from an orphanage and took him under his wing. When Frank is murdered, it follows that Lionel will step up, don the fedora, and find his boss’s killers.

In writing the screenplay, Norton has moved Lethem’s 1990s setting to the Fifties. It’s an obvious fit, and the period is brought vividly to life by production and costume design, most enjoyably when the action moves into a Harlem jazz club, whose ace trumpeter (Michael K. Williams) sees something of his own twisty genius in Lionel. The whole film is infused with a smoky, jazzy score, save for one key scene featuring a beautiful ballad by Thom Yorke.Norton also changes the plot dramatically, drawing his gumshoe into a world of corrupt city politics – personified by Alec Baldwin’s brilliantly venal Moses Randolph (pictured above), whose idea of “slum clearance” is to rid New York of African Americans and Jews. Others involved in the intrigue include Paul (Willem Dafoe), an engineer who has complicated motives for his public attacks on Randolph, and Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whose investigations into city development appear to put her life at risk, and with whom Lionel falls in love.

His artistic license does get Norton a little unstuck: the leaning towards Roman Polanski’s classic Chinatown is too blatant; and even though film noir is designed to baffle, too many scenes are dead ends. As a director, he doesn’t pace an overlong film as well he might.

Nevertheless, it’s impeccably acted by all concerned, gorgeously produced and thoroughly engaging. Ironically, given Norton's investment behind the camera, the film most notably serves as a reminder of what a gifted performer he is – an old-school character actor as star. Lionel takes us back to the young man who blew everyone away in the Nineties with Primal Fear, American History X and Fight Club. We've been missing him in leading roles; as much as he may want to direct, let's have more of Norton where he really belongs.

When Frank is murdered, it follows that Lionel will step up, don the fedora, and find his boss’s killers

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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