Just Do It, Do It, Do It

Motherless Brooklyn
Stars: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw,  Leslie Mann, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Cherry Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Dallas Roberts
Director/Scriptwriter: Edward Norton wrote the screenplay from the novel by Jonathan Lethem
Composer: Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Warner Brothers
Rating: R for violence, profanity and themed material
Running Length: 142 Minutes 

Edward Norton has been working on this film for years and adapted it from Jonathan Lethem’s novel, “Motherless Brooklyn.”  It refers to an orphanage where several characters from the film had lived in the past.  Life was miserable then.  With a running length of almost two and a half hours, I wondered about the interest of the audience.  Not to worry. The main character, Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) has a mental disability and this both aids and hinders him as a private detective.  The book setting was in the late 1990’s, but Norton moved it back in time to the 1950’s where there were dance clubs, jazz clubs and turquoise Bel-Air Chevrolet’s with back chrome fenders.  The music by Daniel Pemberton inhabits the film in the background with a lone trumpet and moves with the actors and their various situations from the darkened streets to jazz clubs. 

Lionel Essrog (Norton) has Tourette’s Syndrome, that means he can blurt phrases, both good and bad, at any time, plus has a facial tic and repeats himself frequently. He has to explain himself all the time and girls do not find this attractive. Lionel works at a detective agency headed by Frank (Bruce Willis), and three other men who had lived at the Motherless Brooklyn Orphanage.  Tony (Bobby Cannavale) takes over when Frank is gone. They are now working on a case and soon they have to take over the agency by themselves. With Frank’s notes, they find a maze of information that may lead to the top of the city government.  Lionel, decides to dig deeper,, while the rest go on to other cases. Lionel steals a reporter’s credentials and is able to get extra information that leads to more than one government cover-up. Moses (Alec Baldwin) is on his way to the top like a freight train.  His opposition can’t find any information to stop him. People find out about Lionel and he finds that people he spoke to are being murdered. What is the connection? 

“Motherless Brooklyn” has side quips that come from Norton and “Tourette’s Syndrome.”  Norton is always having to pronounce his last name (Not “Eggroll!”), and the other characters (Dallas Roberts) and their foibles such as never being able to start a car right away, erratic driving and the speech of musicians.  Edward Norton has his character down pat and you can believe in him. Leslie Mann, who plays Frank’s wife, does it with pizzazz and gives us a woman who knows how to do business in a man’s world. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, on the other hand, is the shy lady, in the background and with secrets. 

With Oscar nomination time I coming up,  I think Edward Norton could get three nominations, one for Acting, one for Directing and one for Film Adaptation. Plus, Daniel Pemberton’s soundtrack, for a fourth film nomination. I liked the mood of this film, and though it goes on a bit, taking Norton’s character from one place to another in the story, the ambiance of that time period is there.  Government management can be suspect and here, you see the underside of who gets elected to office, how money is spread around, and who loses in the end.   

There are scenes, with a touch of dark humor, that stand out, in this film. One is Bruce Willis trying to go undercover.  Another is a get-away with Frank, Danny and Lionel where they are being chased and have to find money for a Toll, Lionel trying to light a cigarette and Moses (Alec Baldwin) describing how he plans to run the city and what big business is really all about. The ensemble cast is large, and each has their moment to shine…and can you find Willem Dafoe? 

Copyright 2019 Marie Asner