Written and directed by Edward Norton, Motherless Brooklyn tells the story of Lionel Essrog (Norton), a Brooklyn detective in post-war New York. Working with street smart private investigator Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), Lionel (who also goes by the name Brooklyn) and his team uncover the truth for hire. However, when Minna is shot and left for dead, Lionel determines to unravel the mystery, plunging him into a Brooklyn underworld riddled with crime, corruption and colourful characters. As his quest for truth leads him further up New York’s ladder of power, Lionel’s investigation is complicated by his Tourette syndrome, which leaves him prone to compulsive behavioural tics and inappropriate verbal outbursts.
Adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name, Brooklyn is a tightly written throwback film to classic Hollywood’s noir films like The Big Sleep or Chinatown. With a stellar cast and tightly written script, Norton creates a world which feels both foreign and familiar. While the film transports the audience back to 1950s New York, it also feels current in today’s culture, highlighting racial tensions and the growing divide between the upper and lower classes. Divided by racial and financial lines, Brooklyn is a city on the brink of chaos.Those that have little power are struggling to make their voices heard while those who have much fight ferociously to maintain it.
As Brooklyn himself, Norton’s performance is sharp, engaging, and loving. At the same time, the character becomes a metaphor for the town for which he’s named. Diffused lighting and growing shadows point to tension between light and darkness, as Brooklyn (the character) attempts to uncover the truth about Brooklyn (the city). Like his compulsion to pull on the threads of his sweater, Brooklyn also must unravel the web of deception until the facts about his city is revealed.
Featuring strong performances and well-written script, Motherless Brooklyn is an entertaining and engaging return to the noir genre. Under the Norton’s direction, the film is also impressive visually, as the shadows and darkness of New York’s underworld are constantly warring against the light of truth.
Motherless Brooklyn is currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. For more screenings, click here.