Motherless Brooklyn is a Dry Detective Thriller from Edward Norton (Blu-ray Review)

by | Feb 20, 2020

From the Oscar-nominated director-writer-producer-star Edward Norton (“Birdman,” “American History X,” “Primal Fear”) comes the magnetic drama “Motherless Brooklyn.” Inspired by Jonathan Lethem’s novel by the same name, Norton aimed to transpose Lethem’s contemporary characters into a different period and plot and gave it a distinctive atmosphere by re-setting the drama in the 1950s—a time of great change in New York City. Motherless Brooklyn is available NOW on DVD/Blu-ray. Here is my review:

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a lonely private detective living with Tourette Syndrome, ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Armed only with a few clues and the engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely guarded secrets that hold the fate of New York in the balance. In a mystery that carries him from gin-soaked jazz clubs in Harlem to the hard-edged slums of Brooklyn and, finally, into the gilded halls of New York’s power brokers, Lionel contends with thugs, corruption and the most dangerous man in the city to honor his friend and save the woman who might be his own salvation.


There’s something to both love and fall asleep to when watching the dry and convoluted epic Motherless Brooklyn from director and star Edward Norton. I wasn’t sure what the hell the point of it all was and I found myself not caring what the outcome would be over halfway into the ridiculous 2.5 hour runtime. Norton’s performance is excellent in spite of his overall vision not coming across effectively so if you’re intrigued at the notion of a 1950’s detective with Tourettes, then Motherless Brooklyn delivers in spades. But the main plot here is the investigation of Bruce Willis’ murder and he’s only in the movie for a few brief moments so why do we really care that he dies? I mean – Norton’s character Lionel explains why, but the audience sure as shit isn’t going to be enthralled when the pacing drags so brutally.

As a period piece, the film feels strange as well. Maybe it was the score, maybe it was the Thom Yorke song that although cool, totally didn’t gel with the old timey vibe of the flick. Norton was going for something that paid homage to classic murder mysteries but the results felt bizarre and disjointed. The movie didn’t even look that authentic but more along the likes of a broadway show where the costumes just didn’t quite fit correctly, or the colors looked a bit too cartoonish. The whole project was a disjointed mess, but if you’re a massive Norton fan then there’s still something of essence to be found in here somewhere. I just didn’t feel like the results were worth the runtime unfortunately.

Special Features

  • Making-Of: Edward Norton’s Methodical Process
  • Commentary with Director Edward Norton
  • Deleted Scenes

The making-of segment was pretty interesting actually because I wasn’t all that aware of Ed Norton’s directorial process being something worthy of another look. But it was – the dude is pretty serious at his job and he’s intensely involved in every aspect of the creation of this film. So if you dug this movie, I do think you should pick up the blu-ray because Norton does commentary here too and that’s a thing.

Rating: 2/5