Motherless Brooklyn (Blu-Ray)

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Edward Norton’s long gestating passion project, Motherless Brooklyn, has arrived on blu-ray, but is it worth checking out? Read my full review to see if the blu-ray deserves a spot on your shelf.

The Movie

Motherless Brooklyn is an interesting project, with a LONG history. Edward Norton acquired the rights to the the book (which goes by the same name) soon after he finished up with American History X back in 1999. 20 years later and Motherless Brooklyn finally hit theaters, though a little bit changed. 

The book was set in modern times, but as part of the adaptation Norton set it in the late 50s. The story follows “gumshoe” Lionel, who suffers from Tourettes, as he tries to unravel the mystery behind the last case his boss was working before he ended up killed for it. Seeing a puzzle to solve, Lionel sets out to learn who exactly killed his mentor/boss, and why. 

He doesn’t have much to go on, and his quest takes him to a number of places he didn’t expect. The mystery only deepens as he finds himself embroiled in a political scandal and up against powerful enemies. When he meets Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), things only become more complicated as his feelings for her become tied in with the case he’s trying to solve.

If you haven’t seen the film yet and are still interested, I won’t dive into the story specifics much further. There’s a lot of revelations throughout various points in the film that I don’t want to spoil. 

The story has a lot of classic Noir overtones to it, which feels hammered home by the period setting. The problem, however, is that it comes off as more Noir-lite. Its pacing is incredibly slow, making so much of the beginning feel drawn out and lagging. While the dialog is fairly quick and punchy as is typical of the Noir style, the overall flow of the story doesn’t lend itself to that effect. Truly, if they’d cut out about 30 minutes from this film to tighten up the story I think the it would have been more enjoyable overall. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film while I was watching it in a general sense, but it felt LONG. This type of film seems to benefit more from quick pacing, but the slow burn effect robbed the big reveals of their true impact.

By the time the credits rolled, I honestly wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Again, I was engaged throughout, and the cast delivered solid performances, but in the end, nothing seemed to change/matter. The movie has a lot to say about race and corruption, but doesn’t really do a whole lot with them. Instead of making broader points/themes, they’re highlighted mostly to move the plot forward. 

Between the performances and overall mystery, there were many things I liked about Motherless Brooklyn and I don’t feel like I wasted time watching it. That said, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll ever come back to revisit it, something that seems important when it comes to a decision to buy it on blu-ray. 

Sight and Sound

The blu-ray transfer is solid, bringing crisp detail to every scene. The color palette is fairly muted, being a period piece, but the deep blacks really highlights the film’s darker moments without crushing or pixelation. 

The sound is similarly well done, and the blu-ray transfer ensures proper priority is given to the dialog. So you won’t have a lot of up and down with the volume between the action and more talkative scenes. From a technical standpoint, the Motherless Brooklyn blu-ray is incredibly solid and won’t give you any problems. 

The Bonus Features

The blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, a digital copy insert, as well as these special features on the disc: 

Audio Commentary

Making-Of: Edward Norton's Methodical Process

Deleted Scenes

Welp...there’s not a whole lot here, which is a bummer considering how long the film has been in the works. While the Making of documentary covers a lot of this, and how it finally came together, at under 10 minutes long it’s far from comprehensive. 

Edward Norton’s director commentary seems to be the star of the bonus features, as he discusses everything from fun Easter eggs, production woes, and even some lesser known history of New York City. This alone is interesting enough to justify another rewatch of the film, though the overall scant offerings of bonus features is a bit of a bummer. 

Editor review

1 reviews

A Slow Burn Noir That Doesn't Quite Heat Up
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Motherless Brooklyn sits at a weird place. I can't say that I was ever bored while watching it, and I was engaged enough to want to know how it all shook out. But once the credits rolled, I can't say I felt strongly about it one way or another. It's just kind of there and for the moment, I don't see myself coming back to it again (aside from the commentary track). Combined with the scant special features, I'd say give this a rental first to see how you feel about it.
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