Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Ed Norton made a real movie. He really did. Yes, there’s some woke pandering, and we’ll get to that, but there is real cinematic achievement here and that warrants recognition.

A little bit Chinatown, a little bit The Fountainhead and a little bit Peter Gunn, Motherless Brooklyn is Ed Norton’s bid for an update on the old school hardboiled crime drama.

As Lionel Essrog, Ed Norton is a private detective trying to unravel the mystery of the murder of his employer. His investigation leads him to the heart of a massive gentrification effort led by a megalomaniacal developer named Moses Randolph. The effort is opposed by a progressive coalition of working class poor and minorities. Of course, the leaders of this woke coalition are two women; black and Jewish respectively. The film predictably places your sympathies with the woke underdogs and the Tourette’s afflicted gumshoe, but the characterizations, atmosphere, music and dialogue lift this effort above your average Hollywood panderfest.

Alec Baldwin’s Moses Randolph is undoubtedly supposed to be a composite of Trump and Howard Roark, but there’s a cursory attempt at making him somewhat sympathetic. When he waxes about his architectural achievements, you’re taken in by his quasi-Randian hubris. Norton probably wants you to just see Trump in Randolph, but he’s just as easily a proxy for progressive icons Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton.

Making him some kind of progressive caricature of #WHYTE #SUPREMACY was an unfortunate misstep, but I guess the Big White Boogeyman is unavoidable these days. The woke intelligentsia makes it seem as though whites are the only racial group that has any notions of superiority or supremacy. What about the Asian supremacists? Or better yet, the Jewish supremacists? Oh, that’s right. The European white man is the only one capable of true racism. My bad.

On the whole, the music is absolutely first rate. Not only is there a character who is undoubtedly a stand in for Miles Davis, but the noir jazz soundtrack is masterfully baked into the fabric of story.

Norton’s portrayal of Lionel’s Tourette’s is decent, but it does feel a little like pandering. Just as Asperger’s is being portrayed as some superpower, Norton is attempting to do the same for Tourette’s. It seems calculated to empower the ableism narrative.

All in all though, a very solid effort.

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