Edward Norton’s movie which he wrote, directed and starred in and was obviously a work of passion, is an impressive film noir. Very loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem it’s a sprawling tale set in New York in the 1950’s which evokes more than a passing memory of Polanski’s Chinatown.
Norton plays Private Eye Lionel Essrog known affectionately as “Brooklyn’ and not quite so fondly as “Freakshow’ on account of his affliction with Tourettes syndrome which cause him to have embarrassing outbursts in public.
The story starts when his boss (Bruce Willis is fatally shot in the middle of an undercover operation, and Lionel sets out to discover the nature of the mission and why it got him killed. It’s a complicated multi-layered tale that covers murder, blackmail and corruption and demands your rapt attention for two and a half long hours.
The villain of the piece is Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) and who is evidently based on Robert Moses a real person who liked to consider himself the master builder of New York. Like him Randolph is a bull-head megalomaniac who literally bull-dozed his way through entire neighborhoods, especially those inhabited my black communities, so that he could build bridges and highways. He is a nasty racist bully with scant regard for the law and who seemed to have half of City Hall in his pocket.
The ‘goodies’ of the piece are led by Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones) the leader of an Anti Discrimination league and her right hand woman Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who ends up being the key to the mystery and also the love interest for the lovelorn Lionel. It’s unfortunate that despite her very good performance she has very little with Norton.
Norton’s performance is pitch perfect even though his tourettes comes and goes, and he will probably be recognized come Award Season. Kudos to both his Production and Set Designers for their perfect re-creation of Brooklyn in the 1950’s .
However what should have been a completely enjoyable thriller was marred by the fact that it bears far to close a resemblance to the corrupt antics of the US President. It bitterly reminds us that what we are dealing with in real life is far too painful to be interpreted and/or celebrated as a piece of fiction. This is one time when art repeats life when we so wish it didn’t .