REVIEW: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn the book (which I loved) and the film (which I liked) share little beyond it's characters. Fairly standard I guess, but the film is such a departure from it's source it took me awhile to accept it for itself.

Moving the story back a few decades adds little beyond aesthetics. Perhaps Edward Norton – who wrote, directed and starred in the film – simply wanted to make a "gangster film"; all fedoras and turned up collars, smoke and low lights.

I really wanted it to be more. Having recently listened to Norton on the Joe Rogan podcast, it was obvious how much of a labour of love the entire project had been, some 20 years in the making, and allegedly made on little more than hope and promises – all actors working essentially for free according to Norton, although I image fees were actually paid after release. And while it's great to see a filmmaker achieve their "passion project", Motherless Brooklyn felt a bit too much like style over substance.

Norton's Lionel – a Tourettes suffering PI – is the focus of the film, but most of it is just watching him piece together, what ends up not being that great a mystery. It take a long time to do little.

The grand plot point, Lionel avenging his boss, friend and mentor's death – Bruce Willis' Frank Minna, who (spoiler) dies in like the third scene – quickly falls by the wayside. There is no actual justice for Frank. The bad guys seem to get away pretty lightly, in the end. The good guys are compelling, but feel kind of defeated by the end.

Motherless Brooklyn is a good film. Not knowing the book will actually be beneficial. Reading the book after seeing the film will be confusing. I'll watch it again, some Sunday afternoon when I've nothing else to do, and just enjoy the heavy Chinatown vibe. Motherless Brooklyn is a Sunday afternoon in winter film.


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