“Motherless Brooklyn” Review

SCAD Savannah Film Festival

Jason Chapman, Staff Writer

“Motherless Brooklyn” was written, directed, produced and starred Edward Norton as a private eye named Lionel Essrog. The film harkens back to the noir genre of the past. While watching there’s a strong impression that films like Chinatown, or The Big Sleep heavily influenced this film. 

The film doesn’t seem to want to make any new marks in the genre. It more so focuses on the characters involved and the sociopolitical battles within New York City in the 1950s. 

The main character Lionel has a great memory, but also suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, which causes him to twitch and yell out random words or phrases. Lionel’s  condition becomes significantly exacerbated whenever he gets nervous, which evokes funny and heartfelt moments throughout the film, and helps the audience connect with Lionel.

 A recurring concept in this film is the daily battles that we as humans must address and take on. There is even a beautiful song by Thom Yorke and Flea called Daily Battles. The song gives us insight into a forgotten world that is unfamiliar to us today. 

Following the events of the story, Lionel’s mentor Frank Minna gets involved with some shady people and consequently dies in front of Lionel. Lionel goes out to try and find out why someone would do this to his friend. In the process Lionel unearths a conspiracy that involves a greedy city planner Moses Randolph  an activist named Laura Rose and the city planners brother played very well by Willem Dafoe. 

We follow this character and cheer for him throughout the convoluted quest he has embarked on. 

The de-saturated greys and bright neon lights help us look through the lens to realize the rich history behind this story. Cinematographer, Dick Pope, shot the film and does a great job. It’s not the grimy New York of the 1970s it’s what came before and lead up to that.

 Daniel Pemberton arranged the score for the film, but the Wynton Marsalis Quartet is what really shines. It gives the film its pulse and drives it forward in many cases. This rich heavily layered noir is a labor of love from Edward Norton. The characters and the settings are very well defined giving a window into the past so that many audiences can experience it.

“Motherless Brooklyn” spent nearly twenty years in pre-production hell. Seeing it finally come together with so many talented actors is truly profound.