Parents' Guide to

Motherless Brooklyn

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Underrepresented hero shines in violent, profane PI drama.

Movie R 2019 144 minutes
Motherless Brooklyn Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 16+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 16+

An intersting mystery although a bit slow to start

A film that seems to take a while to get going, although there are important scenes in the beginning. It has components that are interesting: the use of jazz throughout the film, Gugu Mbatha-Raw's performance and of course the always mesmerizing Michael K. Williams as the coolest trumpet player in Harlem. The mystery is thick but it takes a bit too long to get to the major players. Once we do, then the film takes off and it is interesting. Wish we could have gotten there a bit sooner.
age 15+

Fantastic Film

Ed Norton should have received a nomination. The script is excellent as well. Developing story. Classy, filmy, jazzy, metro.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4 ):
Kids say (1 ):

You have to respect Norton's gumshoe tale for its sheer ambition, but he covers so much ground in such a distracting environment that it can be hard to follow. Norton spent 20 years adapting Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel about a shady detective agency. He ended up moving the setting back four decades, but he kept the story's sweet hero, Lionel, virtually the same. Lionel has an unwavering loyalty for his band of brothers, the fellow orphans of the St. Vincent Home for Boys who became his family. And he has a special fondness for their leader, Frank, who took Lionel under his wing when he arrived at the facility. Minna didn't just look beyond Lionel's disorders -- he appreciated the unique way that Lionel's brain worked and helped him find a career that could make use of it. Hollywood hasn't been kind to those who have Tourette syndrome, too often making the neurological disorder a punchline. Motherless Brooklyn shows that the side effects of the condition are no joke and puts viewers in the position of real understanding for the daily difficulties that come with living with TS.

By going back in history, Norton also succeeds in helping viewers understand some of the issues in the news today, like eminent domain, unchecked government power, even how racism gets institutionalized. As Lionel tries to get answers to Frank's death, he realizes that his friend had made a discovery that was going to interfere with the plans of New York City planning division chief Randolph (who's loosely based on real-life NYC bigwig Robert Moses). Getting insight into how the strong-arm tactics used in New York City's development helped it become a modern city of enterprise is revelatory, but the "discoveries" are also where Motherless Brooklyn gets mucked up. The movie is hard to follow. Whether it's Lionel's involuntary tics making him seize up and blurt nonsensical words, the '50s slang and patter, or the artsiness of the production design and cinematography, there's too much going on in a complicated story. Norton has created a lovely film that provides understanding of condition, issues, and impacts in real life -- just not what Lionel pieces together in the fictional story.

Movie Details

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