starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe
screenplay by Edward Norton, based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem
directed by Edward Norton
by Walter Chaw Edward Norton's twenty-year passion project, this adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's modern noir loses what's affecting about the source material while amplifying, well, Edward Norton. The hero, Lionel Essrog (Norton), is afflicted with OCD and Tourette's. In the book, this means that as his interior monologue is crisp and empathetic, his exterior is kissing people and screaming out anagrams and clever atrocities. In the movie, this means Norton is angling hard for awards recognition playing Rain Man as a gumshoe. I don't mean to be unkind, merely to describe a selfish performance that does very much to attract attention to itself and very little to support a cast that frankly needn't have bothered. It's the worst first date ever--the one where the guy really wants to tell you about himself. Norton's Lionel twitches, grimaces, screams out jibes that are sometimes a little too literary and on-the-mark. He draws attention and that's half the point of it: to create a sensitive, intelligent character appalled by his inability to control his "broken" brain. Yet in an ensemble movie with a Byzantine plot, all it does is suck the air out of the room. There's a shortlist of "unfilmable" novels for any number of reasons (and a few of those, like Under the Skin, were adapted beautifully), but the reasons to leave Motherless Brooklyn free from this sort of literal go are legion.