Motherless Brooklyn (15)



Thriller (2019)
144mins US

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis
Director: Edward Norton
Writer(s): Edward Norton
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Frank Minna runs a small-scale detective agency in 1957 New York City, employing four young men he rescued from the horrors of an orphanage riddled with abuse. Lionel Essrog, who has Tourette's and a photographic memory, is Frank's prized protege and he works cases alongside Danny Frantl, Gilbert Coney and Tony Vermonte. During one investigation into the dealings of businessman William Lieberman, Frank is shot dead. Lionel is determined to unmask his mentor's killer.

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LondonNet Film Review
Motherless Brooklyn (15)

"Power is knowing that you can do whatever you want, and not one person can stop you." That's a line uttered by ambitious developer Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who plans to reshape New York City in the timely crime thriller Motherless Brooklyn. Identity, corruption and politics are themes at the heart of this slow-burning film written, directed, produced by and starring Edward Norton. It has taken the Fight Club star 20 years to bring his passion project, based on Jonathan Lethem's landmark 1999 novel of the same name, to our screens. Interestingly, he's made the decision to scrap the original late 1990s setting in favour of the 1950s...

Motherless Brooklyn. Copyright: 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Caption: Edward Norton as Lionel Essrog in Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton. Photo: Glen Wilson. All Rights Reserved.Norton plays the protagonist, Lionel Essrog, an orphaned kid growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn who is taken under the wing of private detective Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Norton's striking, meticulous performance is the film's greatest strength. The lonely figure has Tourette's syndrome, as he describes in an early voiceover: "I twitch and shout a lot. It makes me look like a damn freak show. But inside my head is an even bigger mess. I can't stop twisting things around, words and sounds especially. I have to keep playing with them until they come out right." Lionel doesn't let his condition stand in the way of his job. In fact, his obsessive personality, meticulous photographic memory and powers of pattern recognition make him a force to be reckoned with, especially after Minna dies on a job.

Lionel takes it upon himself to find out why - resulting in a deep dive into troubling political issues across the city. It's impossible not to root for Lionel as his mission to honour Minna - the only person who has ever cared about him - takes us from Harlem's jazz clubs and Brooklyn's slums to the gilded halls of New York's power brokers. Along the way, he meets alluring community activist Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Norton depicts Lionel's vulnerability with her just beautifully. However, when Lionel unravels closely guarded secrets about Randolph - the most powerful man in the city - Laura is left in serious danger.

There's no denying that Motherless Brooklyn is starkly different from anything else I've seen lately but, tellingly, it isn't particularly memorable. Perhaps that's because the plot becomes a little confusing so I wasn't as gripped as I'd hoped I would be. Or maybe it's the length. At two hours, 24 minutes, it's quite a slog. After the simple, yet hugely moving, final scene - suggesting that, sometimes, the Lionels of this world, the underdogs, the misfits, can find their way on their own - I left the cinema with a sense of hope. In these times, surely that means Norton's film is worth a watch.

- Sam Cannon

Motherless Brooklyn. Copyright: 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Caption: Edward Norton as Lionel Essrog in Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton. Photo: Glen Wilson. All Rights Reserved.


London Cinemas

From Friday 17th January
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- Charlotte Street Hotel
From Friday 24th January
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Rest of UK and Irish Cinemas

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