Corrupt To The Core?
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows takes a look at Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, out in UK cinemas from today…
Director: Edward Norton
Stars: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Bruce Willis
Edward Norton’s career has taken an interesting trajectory. Making his debut in 1996’s Primal Fear, his CV went on to include Tony Kaye’s American History X, David Fincher’s Fight Club and he was even big and green in Marvel’s Hulk for a brief time before Mark Ruffalo took over. In recent years, the actor has shifted over to the indie side of movies and so Motherless Brooklyn, his second directorial effort after romcom Keeping The Faith way back in 2000, adapted from the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name, is here.
It’s a classic detective movie with a slight twist. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private investigator with Tourettes in 1950s New York. He works for Frank Minna (Willis) at his detective agency and when Minna is killed, Essrog is drawn into a web of lies and intrigue that appears to have city planner, the wonderfully named Moses Randolph (Baldwin), at its heart.
Motherless Brooklyn is a classic noir tale, beautifully shot and Norton is very good in it as the lynchpin that holds it together. The rest of the cast is pretty solid too: Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, Baldwin as the evilly oleaginous Randolph. Michael Kenneth Williams as jazz musician Trumpet Man, Willem Dafoe, who plays Randolph’s damaged brother Paul, and Cannavale all bring something different to the table here. Even Willis, who hasn’t made a decent film in many years, has a cameo which works. Its cast lifts it from just being another rather moribund detective story.
Motherless Brooklyn deals with corruption, racism and graft and you soon get used to Lionel’s Tourette’s, accepting it just as part of his character make-up. Norton is a very good director as it’s a big ask to star in a film and also have to steer it at its helm and he moves the action well. It feels accomplished and confident, and considering he has only directed one other feature before, that is quite an achievement. He directs with flair and style and creates a world that sucks the viewer in. The story also tackles subjects like racism and gentrification with aplomb and real depth.
There is real tension between Lionel and Tony Vermonte (Cannavale), who plays a sleazy private eye with a secret at Minna’s firm. Norton also brings out great chemistry between himself and Laura Rose (Mbatha-Raw) and Randolph is an excellent villain thanks to some nifty character work from Baldwin, here more sinister than we’ve seen him before.
The look of the film is well-realised here too: Norton working with production designer Beth Mickie makes the city an integral part of the story. Obviously the film has nods to other detective movies like Polanski’s Chinatown but Norton also manages to make it feel fresh and new at the same time.
Motherless Brooklyn is cerebral, thoughtful at times and action-packed when it needs to be. Norton has created a film which feels classic and modern at the same time and Lionel Essrog is a well-delineated investigator in the tradition of Chandler, Hammett and Spillane. It also feels quite faithful to Lethem’s source material. He should be applauded for trying something a little different which manages to work on screen.
For fans and aficionados of classic inventive detective movies, Motherless Brooklyn should be on their must-see list.
Motherless Brooklyn is out in UK cinemas now
Here’s the film’s trailer as well