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film review

Edward Norton plays Lionel Essrog.Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.

  • Motherless Brooklyn
  • Written and directed by Edward Norton
  • Starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin
  • Classification R; 144 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

I’m sure that the actor and director Edward Norton is often the smartest person in the room. But thinking one is the smartest person in the room can be a bad idea. Witness Norton’s screenplay for this film, based on Jonathan Lethem’s award-winning novel about Lionel Essrog, an orphan with Tourette syndrome who is made streetwise by gangster Frank Minna.

What’s new in films this week, from the robotic and repetitive Terminator: Dark Fate to the murky mess of Motherless Brooklyn

Norton optioned the book when it came out in 1999, and spent the past 20 years changing almost all of it. It’s now set in 1957, and centres on a pitbull city planner named Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), not-so-loosely based on Robert Moses. (Norton’s maternal grandfather was a renowned urban planner; you can imagine Norton cackling with glee over every Moses moment, and Baldwin plays Crooked Pol with everything he’s got.) What should have been the trickiest parts of this enterprise – elucidating the warm relationship between Essrog (Norton) and Minna (Bruce Willis), and Essrog’s Tourette syndrome – Norton handles with aplomb. The rest is a murky mess, unnecessarily dense and confusing for two hours, and then in the last 20 minutes, way too obvious.

Norton and his cinematographer, Dick Pope, did shoot in some gorgeous New York buildings, though.

Motherless Brooklyn opens Nov. 1

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