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Edward Norton takes over in 'Motherless Brooklyn'

The book-to-film adaption parallels today's society.

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  • | 12:30 p.m. November 4, 2019
"Motherless Brooklyn" opened Nov. 1.
"Motherless Brooklyn" opened Nov. 1.
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Edward Norton wears many hats in the new film "Motherless Brooklyn." He directs, produces, scripts and stars. Oh, and then there's the fedora, which proves to be very pivotal to the plot.

Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a New York City gumshoe who's investigating the murder of his best friend and mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis). Set in the 1950s, the city is in a state of gentrification that is displacing working families while benefiting the wealthy. Racist real estate developer Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) calls it "slum removal" when in actuality it's the "removal of people of color."

Frank has left clues strewn like a trail of breadcrumbs to be followed, and one leads to a black community activist, Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is as savvy as she is easy on the eyes. Although most people find Lionel's tics from his Tourette's syndrome and affectations freakish, Laura Rose thinks they're quite endearing. Together they drag skeletons out of closets and uncover nefarious conspiracies.

The film is based on Jonathan Lethem's 1999 best-selling novel, and Norton has spent nearly 20 years getting the film made. It captures the mood of film noir, typically menacing and existential, but Norton chose not to shoot in black and white. Instead, his cinematography is seductively sublime with great attention to detail. His soulful scoring is spot-on and mesmerizing.

Norton has assembled an impressive cast of theater veterans that he had envisioned when he first took on this colossal project. They include Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael K. Williams and Dallas Roberts, all of whom deliver the goods big time.

Parallels are easily drawn to what is happening in "Motherless Brooklyn" and the events playing out at this given moment in our history. The choice of having a famous Trump impersonator portraying a Trump-like character was a slick move. But most importantly, Norton emphasizes that we must unite to fight corruption in order to maintain our democracy. And that the cost of progress can have dire consequences.


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