It’s a real shame that “Motherless Brooklyn” lands with a such a resounding thud because I was clinging to the hope that it would finally break the curse of the passion project. It doesn’t. Written and directed by actor Edward Norton, this too-lengthy film is awkward, lifeless, and often downright comical in all the wrong ways. If I had to choose one word to describe this film, it would be ‘pointless.’ I’ll stop short at calling it embarrassing, but the line hovers mere inches away.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, the mystery film is set against the backdrop of 1950s New York and follows lonely private detective Lionel (Norton) as he tries to solves the murder of his mentor and friend, Frank (Bruce Willis). Lionel lives with Tourette Syndrome, which causes speech and motor ticks which he says stem from all the “threads in my head.” Clues are revealed as he winds his way through the city’s neighborhoods, from underground jazz clubs to the slums of Harlem, facing thugs and corruption every step of the way.
It’s an uninteresting mystery that sputters along, goes nowhere, and is saddled with an unsatisfying conclusion. Both the story and the storytelling flatline, with too much fluff and not enough substance. It’s a movie that’s long-winded and short on content, and will try your patience to extreme limits.
The only entertaining element is the unintentionally laughable performance from Norton, which is so bad it could very well be in contention for a Razzie Award this year. In fact, let’s go ahead and throw in many of the supporting turns too (Willis, Willem Dafoe , Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw). I’d say that you have to see it to believe it, but I wouldn’t wish for anyone to waste a couple hours watching this movie.
Norton is a perfectly acceptable director and this isn’t a poorly made film (there are some admittedly handsome shots throughout), but overall he tries his hand at noir and fails. Many famous actors want to direct and get their shot at an Oscar for doing so, and this whole thing screams out ‘I was made for awards season!‘ It ticks all the boxes, but it’s just not any good.