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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Motherless Brooklyn (M) - 144 minutes

Motherless Brooklyn is a convoluted but compelling – if overly long – drama about a private eye with a photographic memory who is carrying a neurodevelopmental disorder and a powerful city official who wields total control.

The title is drawn from a nickname given to the flawed hero by his boss, who is dispensed with early in the piece.

Mind you, it is an unsolved puzzle left after his boss’s demise that drives his devoted employee to chase a city official down a proverbial drainpipe.

This is a piece of film noir about power and dispossession.

The year is 1957 and Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) is a lonely private detective living with Tourette Syndrome.

He ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).

Armed only with a few clues and the engine of his obsessive mind, Essrog unravels closely guarded secrets that hold the fate of New York in the balance.

It a mystery that carries Essrog from gin-soaked jazz clubs in Harlem and the hard-edged slums of Brooklyn to the gilded halls of New York’s power brokers.

He contends with thugs, corruption and the most dangerous man in the city – developer Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) – to honour someone who stood by him and to try to save the woman who might be his own salvation.

Written and directed by Norton (his first directorial feature since Keeping the Faith in 2000 and his first piece of screenwriting), Motherless Brooklyn is based upon Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name.

Norton is strong as the central focus, helming the meandering storyline in spite of his character’s unfortunate affliction.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sympathetic as Laura Rose, someone who doesn’t realise all that is going on around her.

I did struggle with some overacting, particularly that by Baldwin, early in the piece, however it wasn’t an issue for me as the story developed.

I also felt there were plot holes and leaps of faith you had to have to swallow what was being fed.

And it certainly didn’t need to be pushing 2½ hours to get it all said.

While it is a movie that requires concentration to follow, I appreciated the period setting and the attention to detail that involved.

So, while Motherless Brooklyn is not without its challenges I was still drawn in by the premise and by a significant amount of the endeavour.

Rated M, it scores a 7 out of 10.


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