Motherless Brooklyn [7/10]

Besotted with Jonathan Lethem’s brilliant, immersive novel of the same name, I hung out for Ed Norton’s passion project, “Motherless Brooklyn.” But I missed it just before lockdown and have only recently caught up. Norton wrote the screenplay, directed, and stars as Lionel, a member of the Minna gang, a private eye outfit in the 1950s. Lionel has Tourette’s Syndrome and is assailed by tics and obsessions. When his boss (played with genuine assurance by Bruce Willis) is gunned down, Lionel searches for justice. In fact, justice is the central theme: justice for Frank Minna, justice for underprivileged tenants in an era of repossession. The novel was always going to be a tough adaptation because the book’s central triumph is Lionel’s frenetic, outlandish voice, but Norton strives valiantly and does a passable job. Norton’s atmospherics, including the music, are superb, and some of the supporting actors shine. But I’m glad I knew the plot; its intricacies, so lovingly traced in the novel with its air of doom, struggle to receive air in the movie. And some of the actors, especially Alec Baldwin in the key “sinister overlord” role, are off key. Overall, Motherless Brooklyn is an absorbing feast for eye and ear and mind, but falls short of magnificence.

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