Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, "Motherless Brooklyn" follows Lionel Essrog (Norton), a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome, as he ventures to solve his friend's murder. Armed only with a few clues and the powerful engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely-guarded secrets that hold the fate of the whole city in the balance.Written by
Alec Baldwin's character Moses Randolph is based on real life city planner Robert Moses. Moses is largely to blame for the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles. The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn is mentioned once in the movie on the radio and hinted at later when Randolph mentions a baseball team playing where he says.
Robert Moses did not just have three simultaneous city commissioner jobs but at one time or another he had more than a dozen. During the Great Depression, he operated largely on WPA grants and this, along with massive revenues from toll roads he had built, allowed him to be largely immune from powers that controlled municipal purse strings. Being what appeared to be a sociopath, he did what he wanted without regard for the suffering it caused and was answerable to no one.
He was also a racist. Moses, who was an enthusiastic swimmer, is depicted swimming in a public pool. He was responsible for building a massive number of swimming pools in New York and, according to biographer Robert Caro, he kept them a few degrees colder because he had the belief that black people disliked swimming in cold water. Also, his emphasis on roads over subways led to the suburban growth of Long Island and other places, while pouring money into tolls, creating a massive conflict of interest. According to Caro, he designed overpasses for the parkways to be low so that lower income people could not ride buses into the city, thereby limiting racial integration in the suburbs. He was also strongly opposed to allowing black veterans to move in to the veterans' Stuyvesant Town housing complex. His method for turning poor neighborhoods into slums is accurately depicted in the film.
Due to failed, unpopular project initiatives (such as plans to build a parking lot in Central Park for Tavern on the Green), his opposition to free Shakespeare in the Park, his razing of Pennsylvania Station, and his bullheaded unwillingness to accept international standards when designing the 1964 World's Fair (which was largely a failure) he had lost most of his power by the mid 1960s. See more »
When Moses Randolph exits the pool (at around the 22nd-minute mark) his hair is wet. Just two seconds later (change of the shot) his hair is clearly dry. See more »
Frank always used to say, "Tell your story walkin', pal." He was more philosophical than your average gumshoe, but he liked to do his talkin' on the move, so here's how it all went down. I got somethin' wrong with my head. That's the first thing to know.
It's like having glass in the brain. I can't stop pickin' things apart... twistin' 'em around, reassembling 'em. Words and sounds, especially. It's like an itch that has to be scratched.
[...] See more »
Shauna Lyn... this is yours as much as mine. See more »
Motherless Brooklyn (opens Friday Nov 1)
My friend won advance screening tickets tonight for Motherless Brooklyn, which turned out to be a rather deluxe affair with wine and food served beforehand in the "VIP" cinema area of a cinema in Vancouver, Canada.
We needn't have worried that all these emoluments were buttering us up for a bad movie-it's a really good one and likely to get Oscar nominations for Edward Norton, who not only stars as Lionel but also directs and co-wrote the screen adaptation from a novel. When I was grasping for the real world connection I thought I saw in this feature drama, my husband prompted me the sociopathic mogul, Moses Randolph, depicted by Alec Baldwin in the film is only a thinly papered over Robert Moses. That smasher of neighbourhoods in the name of grand schemes had a leading role in the 2016 documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, about Jane Jacobs and her fight for the soul of New York City. (That soul, I'm hearing, has suffered some blows of late.)
This 1950s period film has an instant classic feel to it. It has enough Hollywood dynamics and star power in it to pull in a larger audience but there's some very nice cinematography and lots of social relevance, both in the good old USA and in satellite nations like good old Canada, where I live, with regard to present-day politics and power-wielding at various levels by wealthy people. This is particularly the case when it comes to who runs city hall and gets to force out large numbers of people from the communities where they belong.
The city where I live has an ongoing struggle for which Motherless Brooklyn has relevant things to say. Even as I travelled to the cinema in question, I was distracted by the ugliness of the rapid-transit corridor it sits on which has been heavily redeveloped since the line went in for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The construction cranes are still plentiful, the featureless higher density buildings lining the route have an oppressive, mountain-view blocking dominance. Robert Moses/Moses Randolph or whoever wears their snappy shoes would love it.
Almost the only thing I was indifferent to in the film was the "brain thing" affliction of Norton's character, which seemed like some kind of cross between Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and a revisiting of Dustin Hoffman's Rainman character, at times. The syndrome had relevance to the story, though, and there were some nicer moments in how it was depicted.
In addition to Ed Norton's strong performance and Willem Defoe's decent contribution, I enjoyed seeing Michael Kenneth Williams as a mellow jazz musician (I always think of him as Omar in The Wire.) Alec Baldwin was convincingly evil, though I think some real life power mongers prettify their harsh decisions, to themselves and others.
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