Warner Bros. | Release Date: November 1, 2019
7.3
USER SCORE
Generally favorable reviews based on 125 Ratings
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Positive:
86
Mixed:
33
Negative:
6
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6
annbdFeb 15, 2020
Well, I really admire movies where there are shown true loyalty, dignity, friendship. This movie owns it. But I guess I just liked the main character and Edward Norton’s performance more then the actual movie and it’s idea.
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4
amheretojudgeNov 4, 2019
You will be rewarded. But that reward is piled under white lies that are obviously not convincing.

Motherless Brooklyn Edward Norton, the second time director's definitely-a-first official writing credit, is everything. Has everything. From
You will be rewarded. But that reward is piled under white lies that are obviously not convincing.

Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton, the second time director's definitely-a-first official writing credit, is everything. Has everything. From a commercial look in its bigger picture to an art-sy rhythm in details. You'd think that a script with these qualities will be balanced. And instead if anything it is immensely unsettling. The film tries to be everything and gets only few handful of things right and it had small hands and loose grip. This was the actual "big reveal" it was going for. And when it finally discloses the curtains, you are disappointed. I mean they did work hard and had an incredible cast to put up a dazzling show.

The film also gives room for the performers and the audience to chew in the material properly. In order to do so the film celebrates, flaunts, milks on probably wrong moments that might be correctly motivated but is amateurishly staged to ever connect with the audience. It explains things more than it should. So it could be smart but it also often suggests that we, the audience are slow along with the characters floating around, swinging a bat that is nowhere near in contact with the ball.

It has a background score that doesn't ring a bell and editing that misleads its audience. I can point out ten moments easily where they should have placed and moved the camera differently or would have chosen the other angle shot in post production. The actor-turned-filmmaker has got the former job to the point. We are following him in every frame and never, not even for a second, he, Norton, manipulates us into empathy, with his complex situation in this hefty case. Motherless Brooklyn's cast is cradled carefully, Norton cares the most in the film, it's just that no one looks out for him as he looks out for everyone else.
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5
Bertaut1Dec 21, 2019
Looks great and is well-acted, but the pacing is turgid

Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn may appear to be an old-fashioned private-eye noir, but in reality, it's about gentrification, institutionalised racism, political
Looks great and is well-acted, but the pacing is turgid

Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn may appear to be an old-fashioned private-eye noir, but in reality, it's about gentrification, institutionalised racism, political corruption, and how such things are woven into New York City's historical fabric. It's a quintessentially postmodern narrative, fracturing the relationship between the physical and the temporal by taking the sensibilities of 1950s noir and supplanting them into an end-of-century milieu. Written for the screen, produced, directed by, and starring Edward Norton, the 1957-set film asks how much corruption are we willing to forgive in a world in which there's a confluence between power and amorality. An average noir mystery, whilst it's aesthetically impressive and the acting is universally excellent, the film can be spectacularly on the nose and didactic. It also moves at a snail's pace, and Norton is never really able to generate any sense of urgency.

New York City, 1957. Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) runs a small PI firm staffed by men whom he rescued from an abusive orphanage when they were still children. He's most fond of Lionel Essrog (Norton), who suffers from Tourette Syndrome, and who has a photographic memory. When a meeting between Minna and unidentified parties becomes contentious, tragedy strikes, and Essrog determines to get to the bottom of the case, slowly unearthing a labyrinthine conspiracy involving local government and urban redevelopment plans.

Apart from relocating the story to 1957, the most significant change to the plot of the book is the addition of Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who's based on Robert Moses, the man largely responsible for New York's high-way infrastructure, the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA, the development of Long Island, and whose controversial urban redevelopment philosophies continue to be implemented all over the world. Operating with almost complete autonomy from regulatory oversight, Moses was a narcissist obsessed with power, and an amoral racist, and so too is the character in the film.

In terms of genre, the film features many of the trappings of classic noir – the world-weary private eye, the laconic voiceover speaking directly to the audience from an unspecified point in time, the seemingly important clues which ultimately lead nowhere, the seemingly irrelevant clues which ultimately lead somewhere, the smooth jazz score, the smoky jazz clubs, the chiaroscuro lighting. There's even a scene in which Essrog finds an address written on a pack of matches.

Motherless Brooklyn's most obvious strength is its aesthetic. Beth Mickle's production design, Michael Ahern's art direction and Amy Roth's costume design are all exceptional, contributing to the nuanced and immersive period-specific tone, with the milieu feeling lived-in and completely authentic. Norton's direction is, for the most part, straightforward and unfussy, but one visual motif he uses several times is shooting directly from Essrog's POV either during or immediately after the character has taken a beating. It's a nice (if somewhat unsubtle) directorial choice, drawing us directly into Essrog's experience when he's at his most vulnerable. On the other hand, the dream scenes are far less effective, feeling as if they're from another film entirely.

For all its thematic importance and laudable aesthetic aspects, however, I found Motherless Brooklyn disappointing. The pacing is so lacking in forward-momentum that the story is practically somnolent. Partly because of this, it's a good 20 minutes too long. I understand Norton wanted to let the material breath, but there's a difference between giving the characters and themes room to develop and stalling for the sake of it, and so much of the film feels like the latter. There's also a disconnect between the politics and the detective story. In Chinatown, everything feels organic – the personal and the political are intertwined. In Motherless Brooklyn, however, Norton is never really able to integrate the two. Another issue is that because the novel features 50s values displaced into the last years of the century, the endemic racism is deeply disturbing – society today is more enlightened about such things, but here's a novel in which characters are acting like it's 40 years prior. This is a vital part of Lethem's postmodernist deconstruction of power structures. However, with the film set in the actual 1950s, the racism feels like period-appropriate window dressing, losing virtually most of its thematic potency.

An old-fashioned detective story with a lot on its mind, Norton's passion for the material is self-evident. However, that passion hasn't translated into an especially good film. Void of almost any tension, although it looks great, Motherless Brooklyn is a film unsure of its own identity and unable to make us care about much of what it depicts.
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4
TVJerryNov 4, 2019
Edward Norton plays a private detective in 50s New York, who also has Tourette Syndrome. Other than the expected twitches and outbursts, it didn't add much interesting to his character. What was especially weird was that everyone in the movieEdward Norton plays a private detective in 50s New York, who also has Tourette Syndrome. Other than the expected twitches and outbursts, it didn't add much interesting to his character. What was especially weird was that everyone in the movie freely accepted it (in the 50s!). Considering that he also wrote and directed, it's pretty apparent that he was looking for an Oscar-bait showcase (remember Rain Man?). He's learned a few things about making a movie, but sadly, his script rambles too much and his direction creates little emotional connection for him or any of the other relationships. The plot revolves around corrupt politicians and a scheme to displace black citizens for the sake of "progress." The film does manage to capture some of the darker elements of film noir, but still lacks much stylistic punch. At 2.5 hours, the slow unraveling of the mystery has no real shocking revelations and lacks interesting depth. This is more a curiosity than an updated extension of the genre. Expand
1 of 2 users found this helpful11
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4
tropicAcesNov 2, 2019
I love the noir era 50s and really respect Ed Norton as an actor. But this is just a mess, and feels like a directorial debut despite being his third go-around. Maybe it would be worth a light recommendation if it wasn’t needlessly 2.5 hours,I love the noir era 50s and really respect Ed Norton as an actor. But this is just a mess, and feels like a directorial debut despite being his third go-around. Maybe it would be worth a light recommendation if it wasn’t needlessly 2.5 hours, but *shrugs* Expand
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6
FilmreactiviewNov 1, 2019
Audience REACTIONS at its International PREMIERE:
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6
Brent_MarchantMar 1, 2020
This loosely fact-based 1950s crime saga has much going for it but, unfortunately, it doesn't quite pull it all together. The film's superb noir-esque production design, inventive cinematography and ethereal soundtrack create the perfect moodThis loosely fact-based 1950s crime saga has much going for it but, unfortunately, it doesn't quite pull it all together. The film's superb noir-esque production design, inventive cinematography and ethereal soundtrack create the perfect mood and setting for its stellar cast, including Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Cherry Jones, creating a vehicle reminiscent of "Chinatown." Sadly, the overlong and, at times, exceedingly convoluted story line becomes difficult to follow, trying the patience of even the most devoted moviegoers. A nice try, but one that doesn't quite knock it out of the park. Expand
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6
HotelCentralAug 16, 2020
Overall, I'd have to say the film is a bit tiresome. It might have done better as a straight detective flick, or as a film delving into a man's mental challenges, but combining the two somehow yields up less than the sum of its parts.Overall, I'd have to say the film is a bit tiresome. It might have done better as a straight detective flick, or as a film delving into a man's mental challenges, but combining the two somehow yields up less than the sum of its parts. Lionel Essrog is an interesting character but should have remained a supporting character. He just doesn't have enough of the right stuff, whatever that might be, to carry the movie on his own.

The plot, of course, doesn't help. It's another corrupt fat cat (ho-hum) steamrolling his way over anyone who opposes him and maybe it's time we consigned fat cats to the genre dung heap. I mean, I'd rather watch a film so tormented that no one, not even Raymond Chandler, can explain it, as long as it's got players like Bogart and Bacall to keep the action entertaining, as in The Big Sleep (1946).

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind getting to see a movie that stuck to the original novel. The author of the original novel described Edward Norton's adaptation by saying, "It’s as if the book was a dream the movie once had and was trying to remember it..."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
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6
JLuis_001Dec 1, 2019
Almost 20 years later Edward Norton decides to go back to the director's chair and this time making the adaptation of a famous criminal novel that he loves.
Did things go well? Yes and no.
I have the understanding that he changed the decade
Almost 20 years later Edward Norton decides to go back to the director's chair and this time making the adaptation of a famous criminal novel that he loves.
Did things go well? Yes and no.

I have the understanding that he changed the decade in which the events of the book take place, because the story of the book occurs in the 90's and the film is located in the 50's.
I can't argue if it was a good change because I haven't read the book but it works in the film.

However, the problems begin when it's clear that Norton is not an experienced director and the slow pace ends up playing against him and it's not that the quality decreases, is just that stops feeling so interesting. You should definitely have patience.
In addition, the mystery is too tangled and with almost two and a half hours of duration; Motherless Brooklyn is a film that feels a bit excessive. Although that's not entirely Norton's fault but of the script as well.

Norton fulfills in a basic way as a director but his best work is as an actor and in his own film he shows it and also the rest of the cast. They are who manage to hook you and if it had been otherwise I think this would have been a great failure but things went fine and in general it's not a bad film.
Considering how perfectionist Norton considers himself, I don't know if he can say that he achieved the film he dreamed but at least he did it well enough.
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5
MarkHReviewsNov 12, 2019
It’s been reported that Writer/Director Edward Norton wanted to make a movie based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel “Motherless Brooklyn” ever since the book was published in 1999. Perhaps this film might have been fresher if Norton hadn’t hadIt’s been reported that Writer/Director Edward Norton wanted to make a movie based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel “Motherless Brooklyn” ever since the book was published in 1999. Perhaps this film might have been fresher if Norton hadn’t had twenty years to write and re-write the script.

While the book is set in contemporary times, Norton chooses to re-set the film in 1950’s New York City. This offers the visual advantages of huge, boxy cars careening around corners, suits with impossibly wide lapels and fedoras all around. There are also opportunities for timeless shots of steam rising through manhole covers in the streets, a lot of streetlights casting long shadows late at night and lingering looks in low-lit lounges, just in case the viewer isn’t fully aware the film is neo-noir. The costume design, cinematography and even the story line invite inevitable comparisons to 1974’s “Chinatown.” Unfortunately, the shortcomings of “Motherless Brooklyn” are quite glaring in that light.

The story centers on Lionel Essrog (also Norton), sometimes called Motherless or Freakshow. After his boss and idol Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) is gunned down, Lionel determines to avenge his mentor’s death. In his dogged pursuit of justice, Lionel still has time to reflect on racism, observe the corrosive effects of unbridled power and to offer a few observations about the intended and unintended consequences of urban planning. Carrying it all along is a great jazz score by Wynton Marsalis, with Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire”) as the trumpet-playing frontman.

A core problem for “Motherless Brooklyn” is that it’s way too earnest for the genre. In stark contrast to Jack Nicholson’s hard-boiled character in “Chinatown,” Lionel’s motives, consistently, are surprisingly pure. This departure from the genre does offer one key benefit: because the story spends so much time revealing Lionel’s virtues, it reveals clearly his neurological condition (Tourette’s?) while allowing Lionel to retain his dignity, his nervous tics a peripheral quirk not a defining element of the man.

Regrettably, most of the other characters are more cardboard cutouts than interesting individuals. This is particularly unfortunate given the actors involved – Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Leslie Mann, in addition to the short-lived Willis. As Laura, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”) is a captivating, luminous exception.

Finally, the film relies way too much on exposition and way too little on action. As a result, the film frequently bogs down in talk-heavy, inactive scenes that are plodding, preachy and pedantic. With a running time of 2:24, that’s simply too much to ask.
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6
JumpCut_OnlineDec 4, 2019
With Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton has created a retro mystery, filled with music and laughter, banter and bullets. Noir films might not be popular anymore, but this film serves as a reminder of why they remain such a beloved genre inWith Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton has created a retro mystery, filled with music and laughter, banter and bullets. Noir films might not be popular anymore, but this film serves as a reminder of why they remain such a beloved genre in the film community. Though its script might not always follow through on ideas or subplots, Motherless Brooklyn still presents us with a glimpse into the past, populated with great characters and sweet music. It’s a trail worth following. Expand
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