Edward Norton’s passion project is finally coming to theaters. Set in 1950s New York, the film follows Lionel Essrog, a private detective with Tourette Syndrome, who must use his unique skills to figure out who killed his mentor and father figure, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, what sounds like a compelling story ends up being an overly-long, completely average film.
The trailer for the film seems to focus on how Lionel juggles Tourette’s with being a private detective. And, certainly, some of those struggles are featured. But outside of giving him super-memory and some comedic moments, Lionel’s Tourette’s quickly fades away until you’re mostly just watching another 1950s gagster-detective movie. In that aspect, there’s nothing new here. Lionel is outsmarting the baddies, charming a beautiful woman inevitably tied up in the case (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and facing off against a big-time politician turned crime boss (Alec Baldwin).
Honestly, it’s not a terrible story. In fact, because it’s based on a true story, the film rarely veers into overdone territory. There are no crazy gun shoot outs (mostly) and the big bad is just a power-hungry politician who prizes his legacy over all else, not some horrific crime boss who enjoys murdering people. Still, it ends up feeling like something we’ve all seen before and at 144 minutes, there’s A LOT of it to see. Combined with too many characters and plot threads, it’s immensely easy to mentally check out while you’re watching.
On its surface, Motherless Brooklyn is an inspiring story about a man utilizing his illness as a strength. In reality, the film ends up being just another detective story that could have done with more time in the editing room.
*This review was originally included in our Austin Film Festival coverage.