Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna.
Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) has an incredible gift of easily remembering explicit details of every conversation he encounters, which greatly aids him in solving cases as a private detective. However, along with this ability comes a distraction as Lionel fights the uncontrollable tics of his Tourette’s Syndrome.
While following his boss, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), on a case, Lionel discovers Frank has been shot. When Frank later dies from his injury, Lionel begins his pursuit to bring Frank’s murderer to justice. Along the way, Lionel uses his memory to find clues that lead him down a dangerous path.
Eventually, these clues bring him face to face with some of New York City’s most influential men, including Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who financed the construction of most of the city’s roads and bridges. Lionel’s investigation also leads him to Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a political activist fighting to prevent the continued displacement of black residents. Soon, Lionel discovers that he shares similar interests with Laura and the two work closely together to help fight the city’s corruption.
Lionel also interacts with other characters throughout the film who mostly don’t understand the strange phrases he blurts out during his tics, though Lionel is always quick to apologize for the disruption. Norton does a good job of not exploiting his character’s condition and even helps you laugh with him instead of at him. There is no mistaking that Norton, who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this film, gives an Oscar-worthy performance.
Motherless Brooklyn has a Dick Tracy-like feel as Lionel’s poetic thoughts and dialog reel you into his 1950s world. Phrases like, “I just kept chasing his footsteps,” or “I was just hoping in all that steam he wouldn’t see me sweat,” help you appreciate the clever verse of this bygone-era detective story. Moments of suspense intertwined with clever humor keep you entertained, though the film’s almost two-and-a-half hour length can feel a bit long.
Nevertheless, the film transports you to a changing time in New York City’s history. This crime drama takes you along through the twists and turns of investigating a murder and will draw you in as you follow Lionel while he tries to solve the case. Lionel demonstrates moments of integrity throughout the film, but due to excessive language, drug use, and violence, it is Not Dove-approved.
The Dove Take:
Although this detective drama offers an intriguing portrayal of sleuthing, the heavy language and violence are not suitable for younger audiences.