Edward Norton stars in Motherless Brooklyn, a movie based on the Jonathan Letham novel of the same name, running Friday, Jan. 17 to 23 at the Salmar Classic. (Contributed)

Coming soon: Motherless Brooklyn blends film noir crime drama and political commentary

Cinemaphile by Joanne Sargent

Joanne Sargent


Film noir is a cinematic term used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, especially from the 1940s and ’50s.

Edward Norton took Motherless Brooklyn, a novel set in the 1990s, and re-located it to the 1950s, giving the whodunit a rich noir feeling.

Norton, who wrote, produced, directed and stars in the movie, made sweeping changes to the story, adding elements of racial tension and government corruption, making it part crime drama and part political exposé.

Norton plays Lionel Essrog (fondly called Brooklyn), an employee of a small private investigator firm. He suffers from Tourette’s so is given to sudden facial tics, verbal stammers and inappropriate outbursts. He is enlisted by his boss (Bruce Willis) to cover him during an important clandestine meeting. Things go awry and Lionel witnesses the death of his employer. Vowing to bring the culprits to justice, his pursuit takes him through a New York of jazz clubs and modest brownstones, and to the office of a ruthless real-estate developer (Alec Baldwin). As he continues to seek answers, Lionel goes toe-to-toe with violent thugs and oppressive tyrants, exposing an elaborate conspiracy involving government corruption and unchecked power.

Read more: ‘1917,’ ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ win Golden Globes

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There are many great things about this film, one being its atmosphere, which brings the past back to life so authentically. Norton has recreated every detail of 1950s New York in an amazing way: the sets, the soundtrack, the lighting and the mood are all classic noir. The whole cast is terrific and Norton is a standout in his portrayal of a person dealing with Tourette’s. Motherless Brooklyn is somewhat lengthy, but you get caught up in the twists and turns of the old-time detective story. It’s a captivating tale with a lot of heart and plenty of social relevance with regard to present-day politics and power-wielding at various levels by the wealthy.

Rated 14A, with some violence and profanity, Motherless Brooklyn will run for seven nights from Friday, Jan. 17 to Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Salmar Classic Cinema.

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