Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
November 11, 2019 1:45 PM - Subscribe

Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna.

Armed only with a few clues and the engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely-guarded secrets that hold the fate of the whole city in the balance. In a mystery that carries him from gin-soaked jazz clubs in Harlem to the hard-edged slums of Brooklyn and, finally, into the gilded halls of New York's power brokers, Lionel contends with thugs, corruption and the most dangerous man in the city to honor his friend and save the woman who might be his own salvation. Along the way, Lionel uncovers a conspiracy that criticizes the gentrification of New York City during the last part of the 20th century.

Directed, written by, and starring Edward Norton, from the novel by Jonathan Lethem, first published in 1999 (Lethem’s book was set in the 1980s, but Norton has transposed the tale to 1959). Norton has also fused Lethem’s novel with material from Robert Caro’s classic biography The Power Broker. Co-starring Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin and Dallas Roberts. The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on 30 August 2019.
posted by I_Love_Bananas (4 comments total)
I went into the movie having read the book twenty years ago and knowing nothing else. So I spent a little while disoriented by the time shift. It's a well-made movie with a lot of good things about it. But it doesn't feel like Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel's character and the Robert Moses mystery just never really meshed for me. It came off feeling a bit less than the sum of its parts.

In some ways, that feeling is true to the book, which I remember loving the language and setting of, but the plot was nothing to write home about and definitely didn't stick the landing. It felt like it was trying to give it a big movie ending, which ran against the grain of the book.

I'd say this is worth seeing for, if nothing else, the scene that recreates the old Penn Station. For a book that it was foolish to try to adapt to the screen, it could've gone A LOT worse.
posted by rikschell at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2019

I liked it a lot... some great performances; some gorgeously framed shots (a very Hopper-eque palette much of the time). I got nicely lost in the story and having never read the book, didn't notice anything particularly jarring about the narrative elements. Willem Dafoe is just so... authentic. I really enjoyed his moments. Dallas Roberts needs to be in more things. Cannavale is also damn good. I saw some of the plot turns coming, but not in a bad way. I was inclined to see the film after listening to Norton's Marc Maron podcast interview, which is also recommended.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:08 PM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

ICYMI: Edward Norton's theory of mind, movies, and power on the Ezra Klein show podcast:
You’ve heard of Edward Norton. He’s starred in critically acclaimed films like American History X, Fight Club, and Birdman, been nominated for multiple Academy Awards, and, most recently, wrote, directed, and starred in Motherless Brooklyn, a film about a detective with Tourette’s syndrome who ends up taking on the most corrupt and powerful forces in New York City politics. Motherless Brooklyn, as it happens, is one of my all-time favorite books.And so this conversation was an unexpected pleasure. In addition to a joint love of Motherless Brooklyn, Norton and I share an unusual number of interests: Meditation, the uncontrollable nature of the mind, the difficulty of solving problems by thinking about them, the psychology of power, media analytics, cultural ideas of heroism, thwarted masculinity in politics, Ralph Nader, and more.
Edward Norton on the 20-Year Journey to Making 'Motherless Brooklyn' on the podcast Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air - "Larry Wilmore is joined by Edward Norton to talk about playing a man with Tourette syndrome in his newest film 'Motherless Brooklyn' (9:45), working with the director David Fincher (27:10), and what it's like to both act in and direct a movie (48:37)."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:27 PM on February 11, 2020

This hit HBO this weekend. A-level buildup to a C-level reveal. The central mystery just wasn't that shocking or thematically rich. Nice movie, but doesn't really amount to what it ought to.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:18 PM on July 28, 2020

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