So this was another film that I went into having no knowledge of what I was getting myself into. I believe going into a film blind of information is a healthy experience for any cinemagoer, it forces you to give more attention to someone’s creativity and it also leaves room for plenty of surprises. The last time Edward Norton directed a film it came at the turn of the millennium with Keeping the Faith but arguably Motherless Brooklyn is his most passionate passion project since he took on the role of writer, director, and lead role. A good determiner of a passion project is to visually see the passion involved and while that is quite apparent with Motherless Brooklyn, I wondered if that’s what this film is riding on entirely.
Edward Norton is a brilliant actor and from his previous roles, takes an attitude to his craft beyond professionalism. He plays a private detective Lionel Essrog who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome. In a sense, he kind of reminds you of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man because you can tell that he must have done a tremendous amount of research in making the character’s Tourette’s convincing. It may not be on the same level of dedication as Dustin Hoffman but nonetheless, Norton gives enough to make the character’s symptoms feel naturalistic.
What’s different about Motherless Brooklyn is unlike many crime mysteries that have come out this year is that it has completely taken inspiration from neo-noir detective films. While other films make have given a hint of harkening back to this period of films, Motherless Brooklyn is a complete identity. The fantastic production design gives this away as the 1950’s Brooklyn setting is very convincing on so many levels from costume to popular music. It borrows a lot of cultural and historical elements of the period including taking inspirations from Robert Moses and urban development.
Continuing with the neo-noir influence, I would say that about half of all Edward Norton’s dialogue was delivered through voice over monologuing, a common technique used in classic crime dramas. Expanding more on the choice of attire, Lionel brings the full clichéd attire. Black hat, trench coat and several scenes snooping from alleyways. It’s hard to ignore the clichés but the film makes it clear from the get-go on its intentions, so I’m inclined to give the clichés a bit of leeway.
Although I am not the type of person where sensitive subjects get to me on a personal level, Tourette’s is one of the few exceptions. The moment I heard about this element in Motherless Brooklyn I was intrigued to find out how not only its function in the film, but also how true it was to cases I’ve seen personally, and I was impressed. I think that how Lionel’s Tourette’s were very natural, it covers a lot of what people would call stereotypical symptoms of Tourette’s and some not so stereotypical like how certain things can affect how frequent the character ticks which I felt was a nice scene to add.
I do feel however that the Tourette’s could have had a more functional role in the story rather than being used as a character trait. I would have liked to see it being worked into situations that would land him in trouble if he had an outburst (this is purely hypothetical). It is a striking part of the character and it’s something audiences will take on board to describe him, but I think a more active part in the story could have worked a lot of wonders.
The murder mystery that was introduced at the beginning of the film served as a good catalyst on which to build towards something big, but rather that has a consistent operation, the film would rather lay one brick at a time at snails’ pace. It gets your focus quite quickly, but at some point, during the introduction of the bigger picture, that interest in the mystery starts to dwindle and we want to get back to something simpler. I’ve been seeing this in films too much recently, there has been a decline in the quality of interesting second acts in film narratives.
The finale is a bit of a let-down too as there’s no sense that the mystery has ended on something massive, and in all honesty, I believe most people won’t even realize before it’s too late and the credits have begun. Even big reveals once placed in the puzzle feel unimpressive or shocking.
Overall, I felt that Motherless Brooklyn set out to be a call back to classic detective films, and in that sense, the job has been fulfilled very successfully. However, it’s counting on your want for more neo-noir inspired films and there hasn’t been a huge outcry for them. At no point in the film is Tourette’s directly mentioned because very few people in the film’s setting had a big knowledge of what it was, so it’s great to see a film that has a main character with this condition and I can see it being a decent awareness film. I only wish that it could have been a bigger part of the character rather than just an interesting trait.
Final Result: 5/10 – Average
Have you seen Motherless Brooklyn? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Jumanji: The Next Level