RFF14: Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton’s new film is an ambitious but demanding noir

The 14th edition of Rome Film Festival (RFF14) opened yesterday with Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton’s second feature film since 2000 (Keeping The Faith). The Boston-born actor and filmmaker, who presented the film in the morning, is also participating in a Close Encounter with the audience today, at 5:30, at Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome.

Motherless Brooklyn is a long adaptation of Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name: while the original story is set in the 1990s, Norton brings it back to the 1950s, creating an appealing noir atmosphere.

The american actor and director, who also wrote the film, plays Lionel Essrog, a private detective with Tourette syndrome who investigates the murder of his mentor and friend, Frank Minna. Following a trail that leads to jazz clubs and ghettos, Essrog unveils a number of secrets involving powerful and dangerous people and the future of New York City.

Motherless Brooklyn has some undeniable qualities: a well-defined sense of aesthetics, a captivating (but sometimes overwhelming) jazz soundtrack and a premise that could turn into a great tale of corruption and politics.

However, Norton succeeds in creating a stylish frame and fails in building a compelling detective story: Motherless Brooklyn gets lost in the narrative, depriving the images of the power to explain even the smallest details. The plot is too rich, the film is too long (144 minutes). The all-star cast, which includes Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale, Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, lives up to the expectations; nevertheless these great actors can’t lighten such a long and demanding screenplay.


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