Edward Norton on Motherless Brooklyn

edward norton motherless brooklyn interview lionel essrog cynicism auteur donald trump alex moreland

I think, had I made this film a long time ago, I might have had more of a commitment to the cynicism of the genre. Part of the benefit of me having a little more time with it, and the times we’re living in shifting and changing around us in certain ways, is that it gave me a real pause about the idea of being dark for darkness’ sake, you know? I didn’t want to communicate apathy or cynicism – I wanted to communicate that, when people encounter power and the dark things that power is doing, there’s a need to be heroic and act against it.

Not long after I finished this interview, I was suddenly struck by not only how extremely, extremely cool the things I get to do are, but also how intensely lucky I am to be able to do them. (I mean, there’s also a bit of hard work involved too, I suppose.) That was a really great feeling, just sitting and thinking about that for a moment.

Hope you all enjoy this, anyway – it was great to talk to Edward Norton about Motherless Brooklyn. It is, obviously, quite the passion project for him, a huge labour of love, so he was really engaged talking about it – which is always nice, as an interviewer!

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Film Review | Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

motherless brooklyn film review edward norton gugu mbatha raw alec baldwin willem dafoe

As Lionel Essrog, Norton offers a characteristically precise performance – every tic and spasm of the 1950s gumshoe’s Tourette’s syndrome meticulously recreated, in many ways the pinnacle of the careful affect Norton is known for as an actor. But to focus on the precision of the performance obscures its sensitivity. What might at first be written off as an ostentatious display of overly attentive histrionics, justified only by itself to itself, belies something much more tentative and tender. There’s a lightness to Norton’s work here, something gentle not lost in his formal dedication to the psychical neuroses; Lionel is rendered with vulnerability and treated in turn with empathy. There’s a depth beyond the superficially impressive imitation of the rhythms of Tourette’s – a crumpled, weary interiority suggestive of a man always slightly out of step with his surroundings.

Another new review from me! Something I was conscious of particularly with this one was how I wrote about acting, specifically; actually engaging with the details of performances is something I find difficult to articulate, so I’m trying to work on that a little harder. Fairly pleased with what I wrote in the end, actually, so that’s nice!

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