As Motherless Brooklyn begins, you aren’t quite sure what to expect. Will it be action, drama, suspense, or comedy? Well, in the end, it is all of those things in the most wonderful way. I’ll be honest, leaving the film, I liked it, wasn’t in love with it, but as it sits with you and the more you think about it, the more you realize how truly spectacular is it. Edward Norton wrote and directed Motherless Brooklyn in which he also stars as Lionel, a gumshoe who following his mentor’s death (Bruce Willis), goes on a search to discover the reason he was killed and ends up uncovering much more. Set in 1950s New York City, we follow Lionel as he works to uncover the truth of his boss’ death while battling with his Tourette syndrome and difficulty with people.
His search brings him to a woman, Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is fighting the gentrification of Brooklyn and other predominantly black communities. As they get closer, the story begins to unfold and brings Lionel one step closer to solving the mystery of his boss’ murder. The closer he gets to solving the case, the more danger he is in as he gets attacked by the people who are protecting the borough authority leader, Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). The story that ends up being woven is one of corruption, racism, manipulation, and greed.
Edward Norton’s direction of Motherless Brooklyn is nothing short of a masterpiece. In each scene, you can feel the meticulous passion of capturing the light or the colors just right. Each part of the film feels intricate and purposefully designed. Not a single scene feels wasted or half-baked. While the runtime is long and does feel a bit daunting, reflecting on those moments of pure beauty within the film, really negate any feelings about the length you may have. He has the distinct ability to capture the beauty in small moments such as a dance between Laura and Lionel accented with the perfect music.
The performances in the film are incredible. Edward Norton as Lionel is both funny and relatable for the audience. He doesn’t allow his affliction to undermine his determination to solve the murder of his boss and mentor. He plays the character with openness and authenticity that is difficult to master, but he has managed to do so. He captured the daily struggles of Lionel’s affliction without making them the full focus of the character. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a gem. She is seriously underrated as an actress but once people see her, she is going to take off. As Laura, she captures the passion and the drive that this character has. The chemistry between her and Lionel is beautiful and simplistic but translates so well on screen. Alec Baldwin may have been a power-hungry businessman in his former life because he plays it with ease in this film. Willem Dafoe’s performance is on par with his other phenomenal performances and he continues to create these amazing characters with such conviction.
The building of action is slow and deliberate but does end up paying off in the end. The film embraces the 1950s detective-style complete with voiceover narration and grey tones but excels in the performances and the direction in capturing the beauty and emotions in each scene. The result is a transportive film that brings the audience back to the 1950s in all its gritty and alluring glory.
Motherless Brooklyn is a beautifully shot piece of art that oozes with style and a distinct tone. Edward Norton’s direction is nothing but pure magic. The performances will stun audiences, bringing these authentic and relatable characters to life. It is not a film that will leave you quickly and will only get better the longer you sit with it. Motherless Brooklyn is a quiet storm that may break through to awards season in unexpected ways.