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Motherless Brooklyn


Stars: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Ethan Suplee, Fisher Stevens, Josh Pais, Robert Ray Wisdom, Leslie Mann, Cherry Jones

Director: Edward Norton

A detective with Tourette's Syndrome - which makes him twitch and jerk involuntarily and say nonsensical things - is certainly an original concept, although over the course of a near two-and-a-half-hour film, there are times when it gets a bit annoying.

Set in 1950s' New York, this is a would-be Chinatown about big city chicanery at government level, but it's much too long for its weight and has two or three scenes that hardly need to be there.

'There are so many pieces,' complains our afflicted hero (Norton, who also wrote and directed), 'I got glass in my brain and I don't even know what I'm after anymore.' Can't say that I really figured it out either, except that the big fish stinking out the pond is obviously Baldwin's smug city executive. Another veteran heavyweight, Willis, kicks off the plot, such as it is, by getting himself killed while talking to unidentified big shots, something that wasn't meant to happen.

Norton is Lionel Essrog, who works at Willis' sleuthing agency, and, with fellow gumshoes Cannavale, who looks dodgy, Suplee (once of TV's My Name is Earl) and Dallas Roberts, is left to run the business. And Willis's last words are, of course, the key to it all.

'All' also involves Britain's Mbatha-Raw as the activist daughter of a nightclub owner (Wisdom) and a key cog in the story, who takes a shine to Essrog, running the usual private-eye gamut of getting beaten up, warned off and double-crossed, as he plods doggedly and somewhat ponderously, through the case.

So why does the movie still get six stars? Well, the acting's good, really good, the music's great, the 1950s' ambience right on the money and the photography by Dick Pope reminiscent of the nightmare world created in the superior 1975 version of Farewell, My Lovely. It's just that the story is the drawn-out equivalent of something you might see on Sunday night TV in such series as George Gently or Endeavour.

David Quinlan

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour (unspecified).
143 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 03 Dec 2019