Some people just exude intelligence. Edward Norton, besides his obvious acting talent, is a smart guy. It, as such, has pervaded everything he has done in his career even when he is playing the Hulk he manages to elevate his characters due to his sharp mind. His sharp mind is on full display in Motherless Brooklyn.
Motherless Brooklyn reeks of “smart”. An intellectual old school private detective film which is not done anymore. Stylized, quirky and wordy. All handled expertly by the man behind it all. Norton acts, directs, produced, and wrote the screenplay. Though it is a mystery there is a calmness to it. A calmness which gives you a window into the assuredness and the smarts fo the man behind it. An ambitious film, but Edward Norton is totally up to the challenge.
The film was inspired by the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. Norton has taken the bones of the story and transported it to New York City in the 1950s, an era he is very interested in. An era where the NYC we now know was being built and created. Every detail has been thought of from the architecture, wardrobe, music, and language. All lendig themselves to the story. The atmosphere has been expertly constructed.
It is an old style film noir centered around a murder, detective agency, city corruption, and crime. Frank Minna (Bruce Willis – Die Hard, The Sixth Sense) runs his own detective agency which he has staffed with four guys he saved from an orphanage. When he is killed, Lionel (Edward Norton – American History X, Primal Fear), a man suffering from OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome, is obsessed with getting to the truth.
The truth ends up being deeper and darker than he could have ever imagined. It involves corruption within the mayor’s office and race/poverty issues. The more Lionel learns the more dangerous is becomes. Dangerous for him and Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Farming, Beauty and the Beast – 2017), a young African American woman who seems involved in it all somehow.
The score is amazing. It earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score. Written by Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) with an original song by Thom Yorke from Radiohead and featuring trumpet playing by Wynton Marsalis, it envelopes and amplifies all that is going on.
It has always amazed me when someone takes on the challenging dual role of acting in a film while also directing it. And if they do it well than I am truly impressed. Impressed because the art of acting seems counterintuitive to what you are trying to accomplish as a director. The pull and push of delving into a character fully while trying to see the big picture to tell your story in the best way possible. Here, Edward Norton does both and well. Both are challenging as he is taking on a period piece, so has to make sure the look and tone of it is all right. Then the character of Lionel is a tough one. Tougher than usual in that he has to ably portray a man with Tourette’s. Characters like this can often devolve into caricature or comedic or false. Not here. It amazed me that none of his verbalizations or tics came off as fake. Also, somehow, they also never distracted me from the story. Just became part of Lionel.
The largish cast is filled with veteran actors. Actors who all have taken on roles of varying sizes in order to be in this film with Edward Norton. Shows the respect he has within the film community. Besides Willis and Mbatha-Raw you get Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Carnavale, Fisher Stevens, Willem Defoe, Dallas Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leslie Mann, and Josh Pais
-Making-Of: Edward Norton’s Methodical Process
-Audio Commentary with Director Edward Norton