Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton has been trying to adapt Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn for two decades. We're not sure why he bothered

Film Review by Philip Concannon | 03 Dec 2019
  • Motherless Brooklyn
Film title: Motherless Brooklyn
Director: Edward Norton
Starring: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Michael Kenneth Williams, Bruce Willis,
Release date: 6 Dec
Certificate: 15

What attracted Edward Norton to Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and drove him to spend two decades trying to realise his film adaptation? It’s safe to assume that he was drawn primarily to the protagonist Lionel Essrog, because he has dropped almost everything else from the book, instead concocting a byzantine Chinatown-like conspiracy for Lionel to get lost in, and transporting the action from the late-1990s to the mid-1950s. Norton certainly has a firm handle on his physical performance as the Tourette’s-afflicted gumshoe, but he loses control of the bloated plot, which frequently turns supporting actors (including Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) into exposition delivery machines.

Norton is trying to have it both ways here, mounting a handsome period piece that also comments on power and discrimination in a way that echoes 21st century concerns, but as a piece of storytelling Motherless Brooklyn just feels so lifeless, with any real sense of danger and excitement seeping out of the picture as it plods along for two and a half hours. This was clearly a passion project for its director, but where’s the passion? [Philip Concannon]

Released 6 Dec by Warner Bros; certificate 15