In just his second outing as director (his first was in 2000, Keeping The Faith), and first as writer, Edward Norton (“Alita: Battle Angel”, “Isle of Dogs”) brings us the brilliant noir film, Motherless Brooklyn.
Norton also takes the lead, as private investigator Lionel Essrog, and brings Jonathan Lethem’s book to life, taking the setting from 1999 to 1957 with Norton also writing leading lady Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s (“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance“, “The Cloverfield Paradox”) character Laura Rose, especially for her.
He turns the film into a period noir PI flick, adding voice over at some points, trilby hats, three-piece suits and an achingly cool jazz soundtrack that would make Miles Davis jealous.
Essrog is an orphan, taken under the wing of Frank Minna, Bruce Willis (“Glass”, “Death Wish”), a private investigator who is onto something big. He asks Essrog and Gilbert Coney, Ethan Suplee (“Deepwater Horizon”, “The Wolf Of Wall Street”), to come along and keep tabs as he meets the people who hired him.
But things go wrong and Minna ends dead. Neither Essrog or Coney, nor the two other PI’s who worked for him, Tony Vermonte, Bobby Cannavale (“The Irishman”, “Ant-Man And The Wasp”), or Danny Fantl, Dallas Roberts (“The Good Wife”, “Dallas Buyers Club”), know what he was up to, but Essrog sets out to find out.
This brings him into the shady world of Moses Randolph, Alec Baldwin (“Mission Impossible: Fallout”, “BlacKkKlansman”), a big-time architect/developer who covets power more than anything else in the world.
Norton twitches, touches and shouts throughout the movie, it’s a wonderful performance (Norton spending time with the Tourette’s Association of America prior to filming). He de-ages himself at times, coming across like a young, vulnerable child, which is what a lot of his foes take him for.
But Essrog is smart, with a photographic memory. Norton takes you on the journey as this young PI puts it all together, finding the missing piece and solving the puzzle.
The film may not be perfect, there’s a couple of shots in there (a random one of a sideboard, and another of some grass) that don’t quite add-up, and I managed to guess who was who and what was going to happen pretty early, and I never do that. The voice-over, used sparingly, doesn’t quite work either, it needed to be all or nothing, this middle ground feels weird.
But, and it’s a big but, Motherless Brooklyn is an achingly cool, wonderfully directed, and beautifully performed piece of work. Norton is brilliant, Mbatha-Raw equally so, Baldwin stands equal and Dafoe is just on a roll at the moment (watch The Lighthouse than this, the two performances are poles apart but equally brilliant).