Motherless Brooklyn Has Some Issues

(L-R) EDWARD NORTON as Lionel Essrog and WILLEM DAFOE as Paul in Warner Bros. Pictures' drama "MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Motherless Brooklyn has a bloated run time, which could prove to be a tortuous experience for film goers if there are projection issues.

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) suffers from Tourette Syndrome despite working for Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).  Funny enough, Lionel’s condition has never stopped Frank from trusting him.  What aids Lionel is the fact that he has one of the best memories among anyone working for the L & L Agency.  When Frank gets gunned down, Lionel decides to take matters into his own hands.  After all, he was the only one listening in on a conversation in the office.  What Lionel discovers is something of another monster.  It’s an investigation that takes Lionel to Harlem and the slums of Brooklyn.  Moreover, it leads to a run-in with the powerful Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a city official with plans of his own.  Randolph is also a racist.

As Lionel investigates his mentor’s death, he encounters Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a lawyer working to defeat one of Randolph’s plans.  Cue the inevitable romance portion of the film.  Then there’s Paul Randolph (Willem Dafoe), a civil engineer who is at war with his own brother.  Meanwhile, Frank discovered something before his untimely and tragic death.  Something that can have powerful ramifications for everyone involved.  It’s up to Lionel to find it.

Norton takes some liberties in adapting Jonathan Lethem’s novel for the screen.  For one, he added the Robert Moses-esque city planner Moses Randolph to the story.  Similarly, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones) could certainly be a stand-in for Jane Jacobs.  The biggest change is moving the book’s 1999 setting to the 1957.  Given the dialogue, there’s a noir feel to the film.  As such, the 1950s make for the right time period.  Having this dialogue in contemporary times would feel out of date.  Daniel Pemberton’s score is also one of the good things to enjoy about Motherless Brooklyn.  Before everything else seems to go haywire, Pemberton’s score immediately draws our attention.  I love a good noir film as much as the next person but there’s just something about Motherless Brooklyn that rubbed me the wrong way.  Maybe it’s the way that Norton is playing a person suffering from Tourette Syndrome.

One of the biggest problems that came during my screening of the film was heads being cut off at the top of the frame.  I don’t know if this was a decision by the filmmakers or a mistake on the part of the projectionist.  Whatever the case, it was so distracting to the point that it became annoying after a while.  This is one of those things that would drive a filmmaker crazy especially when press are sitting down to watch the film.  Add on the film’s nearly two and a half hour run time and it’s very much a distraction!  It’s one of those things that took me out of the film and didn’t improve upon the experience.

Motherless Brooklyn is one of those festival films that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

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

Warner Bros. Pictures opens Motherless Brooklyn in theaters on November 1, 2019. Grade: 2/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.