By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
directed, wrote and stars in the artful new movie, “Motherless Brooklyn.”
The neo-noir detective drama is an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name.
“Motherless Brooklyn” had been languishing in production hell for years before Norton took control. The result is a soundly arresting movie which showcases the Oscar nominated actor (“American History X”) at his best.
Unlike the novel which is set in the 1990s, the film takes place during the 1950s. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a gritty, gumshoe with a special set of skills that are enhanced by Tourette's syndrome which causes involuntary, jerky body movements and for him to lash out embarrassing words at the most inopportune times. He’s kind of touchy, feely too. “It’s like I got glass in my brain,” Lionel tries to explain to people he meets.
Although Lionel’s affliction annoys him and others, his mind is still sharp as a whip. He has a photographic memory which serves him well on the job.
However, Lionel is put to the test when his boss and only true friend, Frank Minna (a captivating Bruce Willis, “Glass”) is murdered and Lionel begins to snoop around to find out who killed him and why.
Frank’s wife Julia (Leslie Mann, “Blockers”) doesn’t offer much help. She does allow Lionel and the rest of Frank’s employees, Tony (Bobby Cannavale, “The Irishman”), Gil (Ethan Suplee, TV’s “Santa Clarita Diet”) and Danny (Dallas Roberts, TV’s “Insatiable”) to run the detective agency and tie up the loose ends.
Lionel discovers there are lots of dots to connect. His investigation leads him to real estate guru and New York city planner Moses Randolph (a solid Alec Baldwin, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), his brother Paul (a terrific Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”), a civil rights activist/lawyer (an excellent Gugu Mbatha Raw, “Concussion” and “Beyond the Lights”), an anti-discrimination crusader, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones, TV’s “Transparent”) and a Harlem jazz club musician known as trumpet man (a stellar Michael K. Williams, TV’s “When They See Us”) who forms a wonderful friendship with Lionel.
“Motherless Brooklyn” is a beautifully rendered, moody throwback to old school filmmaking. Much of the credit belongs to cinematographer Dick Pope as well the mesmerizing jazz score from Daniel Pemberton (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Ocean’s Eight”).
But it’s Norton who should be applauded for sticking to this ambitious passion project and bringing “Motherless Brooklyn” to the big screen.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For "MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.