A film he’s wanted to make since buying up the movie rights since before Jonathan Lessem’s novel was published in 1999, Edward Norton wrote, directed and starred in Motherless Brooklyn. Set in 1950’s New York City, Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a private detective who suffers from both OCD and Tourette’s syndrome (though he has no diagnosis for it yet). The quirks that come with these disorders complicate both his personal and professional life. He also boasts a photographic memory, a huge help in his line of work.
When his boss and friend Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) dies in a hit, Lionel makes it his duty to find the man responsible. For Lionel, this investigation is very personal. Frank had rescued him and his colleagues Gilbert Coney (Ethan Suplee), Danny Fantl (Dallas Roberts), and Tony Vermonte (Bobby Cannavale) from an orphanage when they were kids. That means investigating politicians like Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) a developer (Donald Trump, anyone?) who decimate neighborhoods (particularly African American and Hispanic) with apparent glee. Randolph’s brother Paul (Willem Dafoe), as well as community activists like Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones) and Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) all become part of the investigation.
Edward Norton has always seemed to be a dedicated actor. Here, he does a admirable job, suffering from Tourette’s, the “anarchist in his brain,” barking out his id dialogue while trying to be an undercover detective. His nickname is Freak Show. Unfortunately, once the story got rolling, I couldn’t help but feel Norton saw the disorder as a chance to ACT (Oscar bait?) and the affliction dominates, even in scenes where it’s not important for the story. The core plot is focused, but it tends to meander a lot–perhaps an attempt to give the films impressive supporting cast more screen time–and the detours add nothing to the film but length.
The plot of Motherless Brooklyn has interesting moments but is never especially compelling. Though I haven’t read Jonathan Lessem’s novel, I have a sense that some of the showier aspects of the story, notably the Tourette tic’s, become less obtrusive. Motherless tries hard to offer a throwback to a noir classic similar to 1974’s Chinatown, but Norton and his talented cast can’t turn silver into gold. Rent it.
Presented in the 1.85 aspect ratio, Warner’s 1080p presentation is a solid one. The image looks good, with a nice level of definition. There are no apparent artifacts or print flaws and the presentation looks clean throughout. The color palette leans heavily towards teal. While the colors don’t necessarily dazzle, they’re certainly vivid enough. Blacks are deep and inky. Viewers should be pleased with this presentation.
The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack opened things up nicely. A few louder sequences–usually connected to car or gun related action beats–makes more dynamic use of the soundfield but there aren’t many of those moments. Instead, this is a dialogue heavy film, with emphasis on ambient sound, something this track handles very well. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English, English SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Actor/Director Edward Norton: Norton delivers a thoughtful, running, screen-specific, commentary that covers the source of his adaptation, cast, performances, sets, locations, etc. It’s obvious that Norton was very connected to this project. I was surprised to learn just how big a Star Wars nerd he seems to be!
- Edward Norton’s Methodical Process (HD, 9:38) Various members of the cast and crew examine the novel and its road to the screen, the film’s style Edward Norton’s multiple roles. If you haven’t guessed, except lots of praise for the writer/actor/director.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 5:19) Five in total.
- Digital Code
Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
Movie title: Motherless Brooklyn
Duration: 144 min
Director(s): Edward Norton
Actor(s): Edward Norton , Bruce Willis , Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin , Willem Dafoe , Bobby Cannavale
Genre: Crime, Drama