Government corruption, political land grabs, an illicit affair and a murder mystery are among the secrets woven into “Motherless Brooklyn.” Based on Brooklyn-born author Jonathan Lemen’s tale set in the 1950s, Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) is a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome. He sets out to solve the murder of his mentor and friend, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), with only a few clues, and is plunged into a world of political favors and unsavory characters.
Edward Norton debuts with a bang, directing and writing an intriguing crime story adaptation that luxuriates on screen with slick retro style.
The atmospheric production design and smartly tailored costumes superbly capture a bygone era while the jazzy musical score ties everything together.
As sharp as it is, the movie unfolds at an unhurried pace, with a 2-hour, 34 minute run time.
The Oscar-nominated Norton displays a keen eye for details behind the scenes but his work on camera merits him a place in the best actor mix during awards season.
The challenge of playing the Tourette’s afflicted but whip-smart gumshoe Lionel can’t be understated – and he walks a fine line between realistic and patronizing, carrying it off with much aplomb. It’s a seamless, potent performance.
The cast, as lived in each role as can be, is first-rate, with Bruce Willis as a ringleader, Bobby Cannavale as one of his guys, Alec Baldwin as a suspicious politician and the stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw as an innocent whose life gets thrown into the pot-boiler.
The story is complicated, to be sure, but film noir fans can dig in to many pleasurable elements.