“Motherless Brooklyn” opened in theaters nationwide Nov. 1. This rough and tumble Manhattan movie -written, produced and directed by Edward Norton- is a quiet neo-noir crime film with little to show. While I watched this film all I could think about was John Mulaney from his Netflix special “New In Town.” He had this one bit about “Cold Case Files” where they solve old murders and how one could get away with anything before the discovery of DNA. An excerpt:
“Sir, there's a pool of the killer’s blood in the hallway!”
“Hmm GROSS! Mop it up. Now back to my hunch…hmmm look for clues!”
That’s all I could think about when I was watching “Motherless Brooklyn.”
This film follows the hardboiled narrative style that every detective film follows, always projecting the thought process of the detective. In this case, “Motherless Brooklyn” is set in 1950s New York City. It follows a detective with Tourettes Syndrome out to solve the murder of his mentor. Now it’s a good story, I have no qualms with that. However, the acting and pacing are atrocious. The language of the 50s’ falls flat and sounds unnatural, the big-name stars were the main culprits of thing. Bruce Willis, Leslie Mann and Bobby Cannavale butchered the lingo and were the most out of place in this film. Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Defoe had less of the 50s vernacular but still nailed their performances. If anyone is familiar with the acting style of Alec Baldwin, who is also in this film, you know that he plays himself in almost every role, “Motherless Brooklyn” is no exception.
The film was very hit and miss. Some scenes would be decent and borderline good while others were poorly executed. Car chase scenes were slow and choppy, fight scenes were anticlimactic and the pacing was a disjointed train wreck. It kept moving from one scene to the next with little to no transitions, so perhaps that can be chalked up to poor editing.
Despite the number of issues with this film, I believe it still deserves the benefit of the doubt. Norton’s performance alone is befitting of praise. A theme of this film is about giving people a chance, so it would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise. It didn’t pack the punch I was hoping for but perhaps that just shows my inexperience when dealing with this genre. Off the top of my head, that last film I saw with this noir narrative style was “Blade Runner,” and that alone was a long time ago.
It is an interesting film, however, it is unlikely that I will ever watch it again. While I love Edward Norton, he was not strong enough to save his own project. This film struggled and never really found its footing, it’s poor writing and lack of a concrete resolution left viewers unsatisfied, to counter that point, people love stories where a hero is triumphant over a villain. We are notorious for wanting to get the bad guy, for good to win. But that’s unrealistic. The cynical realist in me knows that not every fight can be won, leaving a story open-ended and up to interpretation is certainly a more thought-provoking way to handle it. If executed well. That’s a big if. “Motherless Brooklyn” had this kind of ending, and it was executed in a rather okay way. Not great, not terrible. Just okay. That’s it. That’s the entire review of the film in a nutshell: just okay.