Motherless Brooklyn Movie Review
Of all the passion projects Ed Norton could have fixated on, why choose Motherless Brooklyn, a moderately entertaining yet ultimately tedious noir that unfortunately relies on an extremely uninteresting mystery? Norton writes, directs and stars in the film, in which the most memorable element is Norton’s Tourette Syndrome-inflicted protagonist.
Norton is a good actor, and he generally does a fine job of maintaining a serious tone while he’s blurting out absurd statements as a result of his character’s audible tick, but it would be a stretch to say that Norton transcends his own material—a shame, considering the material is average at best.
Based on a book by Jonathan Lethem, Norton for some reason shifts the modern-day plot to the 1950s—presumably to go full, traditional noir. The problem is that the movie just looks and feels a bit dated, from Norton’s voiceover narrative to the methodical plotting. It lacks dynamism, and even worse, as the mystery unfolds the less fascinating it becomes.
Motherless Brooklyn starts off strong enough, quickly thrusting the lead characters into a murder plot that hints at a major conspiracy. The story zigs and zags well enough, laying a foundation for what you’d expect to be a big reveal later on. The casting of Gugu Mbatha-Raw is an inspired one—she injects every scene she’s in with a breathless vibrancy that most of the movie lacks—and while her sudden bond with Norton’s character isn’t entirely believable, their chemistry is undeniable.
Sadly, as the two-and-a-half-hour movie progresses, it slowly deteriorates into a two-and-a-half-hour slog. It’s not that the movie entirely loses its entertainment value, but as it becomes obvious that the mystery is much more straightforward and predictable than expected, it also becomes obvious that there just isn’t much to lean into.
Which makes it all the stranger that Norton chose this as his pet project.
Between Alec Baldwin’s utterly forgettable turn as the surface-level villain Mo and the complete thud of an ending, Motherless Brooklyn closes out in disastrous fashion. Put another way: I sat through two-and-a-half-hour movie for this?
Motherless Brooklyn isn’t without its moments, but in the end, the movie is a failure, a misguided if earnest attempt at being something more than it ever had a chance of being.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.