In 1950s New York, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend.
‘Motherless Brooklyn’ (or ‘L.A. Noire: The Movie’ as I’m going to call it), is the second film directed by actor Edward Norton and it’s a weighty, complex neo-noir that has a lot of interesting ideas that it can’t quite bring together into a satisfying whole. Set in 1950s New York, the narrative follows a private investigator with tourettes syndrome who finds himself involved in a complex web of corruption when he starts to investigate the death of his boss and mentor. As well as directing, Norton stars in the leading role as the PI Lionel, and his performance is very good and he’s particularly adept at capturing the tics and mannerisms of an individual with tourettes syndrome. He has also amassed an exceptional cast primarily made up of performers he’s worked with in the past and even in bit parts it’s enjoyable seeing the likes of Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make appearances.
I’m a sucker for a good noir, and generally the more complex the better, but I found ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ really hard to get into despite liking many of its elements. It hits the beats you’d expect in a noir film but it can’t help but feel derivative, with the dialogue and music feeling like it comes straight out of a pastiche and not a film attempting to explore serious themes. This is where my comparison to the computer game ‘L. A. Noire’ feels most apt. About an hour and a half into the 144 minute runtime I found myself losing interest just at the point the intensity should have been ramping up, not helped by pacing that slowly builds the story then all of a sudden speeds up as we race towards the conclusion, forgetting to bring the audience along for the ride. The crux of the plot involves the urban development of New York and the way in which senior officials (represented most by Alec Baldwin’s Moses Randolph, an epitomisation of unfettered capitalism) exploit their positions for financial gain and to further their political agenda at the expense of poorer, often black communities in the city. It’s a heavy subject for a noir film and I admired Norton’s desire to be so overtly political, but it comes at the expense of an engrossing film.
‘Motherless Brooklyn’ is an ambitious film from Edward Norton that doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do, and to be honest it is hard work at times. Through it’s tale of systemic corruption it wants to act as an allegory for contemporary times, but in this drive to make a political point it fails to succeed at the basics and while I enjoyed aspects, it did lose me by the end.
Directed By: Edward Norton
Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael K. Williams, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Josh Pais, Robert Wisdom and Fisher Stevens