Motherless Brooklyn (2019) A Review

Edward Norton gives a great directorial and on-screen performance in this emotional, noir style, crime drama.


DIRECTOR:  Edward Norton

STARRING:  Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin

SCREENPLAY:  Jonathan Lethem (based on the novel by), Edward Norton (screenplay)

GENRE:  Crime, Drama

RUNTIME:  144 Minutes

★★★★ 3.5 Stars    

A film that I don’t think got the hype around here that it deserved.  Yes I had a few issues with the pacing, but on the whole, this film was well shot, well edited and spectacularly performed by all parties involved.  A real gem for those who will chose to go and see it.

Lionel Essrog works as a Private Investigator along side his friend Frank Minna.  Suffering from Tourette’s, Lionel finds it hard to form friendships with people, but Frank never treated him as anything but a friend, and even found ways for Lionel to put his eccentricities to good use for him.  After Frank is shot and killed, Lionel investigates and gets mixed up in a real estate scandal involving some of New Yorks most powerful men.

In his second Directorial outing, and his first as a writer, Edward Norton does an all round fantastic job here.  His performance as Lionel is both heart breaking and at times humorous, (though I will leave the argument as to whether his affliction should have been used as a means of humour to those more qualified then me), his performance really drives the plot forward, it is the emotional bond we form with Lionel that keeps us watching the entire time.

This film is designed to harken back to those old school film-noir detective stories.  The ones that invoke images of Humphrey Bogart in a Trilby hat, standing on shady street corners.  And Norton does a fantastic job of that.  Everything from the transitions between scenes, accompanied by Norton’s voice over narrations, to the costumes, and that amazing Jazz heavy soundtrack, really do transport you back to that golden age of Hollywood.  And as a lover of films from that era, I loved the not so subtle nod to it. Even the dialogue and accents are stereotypical of those 1930/40s gangster films, it may have been laid on a little think, but I think it gave the film a really unique feel compared to a lot of the crime dramas I have seen recently. 

One of only downfalls of this film for me was its runtime and/or pacing.  I am no hater of long films.  I have watched and enjoyed many films of a similar or longer runtime.  The key with films this long is pacing.  If, the pacing is off, it can make the whole thing lag. And that is what happened here. The beginning was all excitement; the ball gets rolling pretty early on.  Then again at the end when all the loose ends are wrapped up and everything starts to make sense.  But there was a while in the middle, while we are trying to figure things out along with Lionel that the pace dropped off a little for me.  Twenty or so minutes of this could probably have been shaved off, and the story wouldn’t really have suffered for it.

And the second thing that kind of bothered me was the ending. We spend the considerable runtime of this film working on a mystery, then when the mystery is uncovered and the culprits revealed, the ending seems a bit…unsatisfying.  Nothing happens.  No one is brought to justice, no revenge is enacted, we are just handed a solution and that’s the end.  I would have liked a more wrapped up ending.  

I went in expecting to love this film and for the most part I did. I would definitely recommend for fans of old school Hollywood; there are some strong vines of that here.

Motherless Brooklyn is out in UK cinemas Now!

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