Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn


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.

Dove Review

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.

Content Description

Faith: Far from the true message of God, when Lionel mentions his childhood at a Catholic orphanage, he says the nuns thought his condition was a sign he wasn’t right with God.
Integrity: Frank takes Lionel under his wing as a child and mentors him as an adult; Lionel tries to bring Frank’s murderer to justice; Lionel tells Laura he thinks she’s a good person.
Sex: Lionel and Laura hold hands, slow dance, kiss and lay in bed together fully clothed; a man and woman kiss at the train station; Lionel’s colleague, Tony confesses to sleeping with Frank’s wife; another character’s infidelity is mentioned.
Language: Excessive use of F, also with “mother”; other profanity includes S, also with “horse” and “bull”, A, B, also SOB, D, GD, JC, C, JH; crude references to both male and female anatomy; some mild language; name-calling; racial references.
Violence: Graphic violence involving gun shots, punching, hitting, kicking and strangling; bloody wounds from violent attacks; Lionel throws hot water in a man’s face; two men die from gunshot wounds; man falls from a building supposedly to his death.
Drugs: Several scenes of cigarette smoking and drinking; Lionel smokes marijuana to help tame his Tourette’s syndrome.
Nudity: Moses wears swim trunks; Laura and another woman wear silky sleepwear.
Other: Lionel steals a press pass and poses as a reporter.


Company: Warner Brothers
Director: Edward Norton
Producer: Edward Norton
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 144 min.
Industry Rating: R
Reviewer: Karen W.