Friday, November 1, 2019

Motherless Brooklyn - Movie Review

The Movie: Motherless Brooklyn

The Director: Edward Norton

The Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Josh Pais, Robert Ray Wisdom, Fisher Stevens, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe

The Story: 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.

The Review:
In the year 2000, Edward Norton made his directing debut with a romantic comedy called Keeping the Faith which was about a priest and a rabbi who fall for the same woman. Since this was 19 years ago and the description really tells you everything you need to know about the movie, I wish we could just say that Motherless Brooklyn is Norton's actual debut as a director. By the way, Norton also wrote the screenplay and stars in the movie and, to use a football term, he excels in all three phases of the game.

Edward Norton has been one of my favorite actors for some time thanks to his work in Fight Club, The Illusionist, The Incredible Hulk (Yes the Marvel movie), and especially Birdman which I feel is the best work he has ever done. If you have never watched Birdman, drop everything and fix that. It's quite simply one of the great movies ever made. I'll be here when you get back.

So, after watching this movie, I am officially adding Norton's acting performance to that short list I mentioned before you left to watch Birdman. The way Norton brings Lionel Essrog to life is absolutely brilliant and he fits the character perfectly within the classic noir style, crime story he adapted from Jonathan Lethem's award winning novel. Lionel is a detective who suffers from Tourette's Syndrome making his interactions with those around him very interesting at times. It's interesting how Norton is able to make the characters affliction humorous without every being degrading or insulting and that is a very hard thing to do.

Along with Norton, the movie also features a stellar supporting cast featuring more standout performances from Bobby Cannavale, Willem Defoe, Leslie Mann, and especially from Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is quickly rising up the ranks as one of my favorite actors on the planet. It's amazing to see Willem Defoe, who has always been a great actor, just get better and better as his career moves along and what he does here, along with his work in The Lighthouse, shows that he may currently be at a high point of his career.

The story itself is a whodunit style crime thriller that embodies the dark and dingy look and feel of 1950's New York which was at one of the major transition points for the city coming out of World War II. Norton does such a good job framing, editing, and lighting the movie, my brain seems to want to recall it as a black and white movie even though it was indeed a full color picture film. Norton's decision to bring in Dick Pope as cinematographer was an inspired choice which I'm guessing may owe a little bit to them working together on The Illusionist which is also a beautifully filmed movie. The way he puts the city on screen is just gorgeous from the massive cityscapes to the finest details of clothing and furniture, all of it looks amazing.

As I'm typing this review, I just noticed that the run time for the movie is just under two and a half hours and it actually felt much less than that which is definitely a good thing. A young man discussing the movie on the way out of the theater told his friends he was very impressed because he felt that every moment of the movie was entertaining and another member of the group stated how impressed they were with Norton because he wrote, directed, and starred in the movie. It was great to see a bunch of twenty somethings have a genuine appreciation for a movie like this and expressing how much they enjoyed seeing it in a theater. There is hope for humanity after all.

Motherless Brooklyn is one of the best movies of the year. The end.

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