Motherless Brooklyn Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: Norton’s triple credit for writing, directing and acting; leading actors; intrigue; entourage; musical accompaniment Cons: chaotic scenes in which it is difficult to understand what is happening; Long and confusing running time for Motherless Brooklyn

Genre crime drama
Directed by Edward Norton
Cast: Edward Norton (Lionel Essrog), Bruce Willis (Frank Minna), Willem Dafoe (Paul Randolph), Alec Baldwin (Moses Randolph), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Laura Rose), Leslie Mann (Julia Minna), Bobby Cannavale (Tony Vermont), Ethan Suplee (Gilbert Coney), Dallas Roberts (Danny Fantl), Michael Kenneth Williams (Wynton Marsalis), etc.
Компании Warner Bros. Pictures, Class 5 Films, MWM Studios
Year of release 2019
IMDb website

The film “Orphan Brooklyn” cannot be called the directorial debut of Edward Norton (he previously directed the comedy Keeping the Faith). However, this particular project was special for the actor – it took Norton many years to write the script and release the film on the big screen.

It all started in 2000, when Edward Norton acquired the rights to film the novel by American writer Jonathan Lethem, which tells the story of a detective with Tourette syndrome. After that, there was never a suitable time for filming, and Norton began writing the script already in 2014. He adapted the story in his own way, moving events from modern times to the 1950s. This made it possible to shoot a film with neo-noir elements, focusing on stylish details. In addition, Norton decided to complicate the plot by adding a negative character in the person of Randolph Moses (played by Alec Baldwin). He became the prototype of Robert Moses, the famous New York developer.

Work on the film, which began in 2018, was overshadowed by a fire in the Harlem area, where Norton filmed one of the key scenes. A New York City fire department employee died while putting out the fire, and the fire led to a lawsuit being filed against Edward Norton’s production company.

Despite this, the film was edited and presented this summer at the Telluride Film Festival. After which “Orphan Brooklyn” went into worldwide distribution.


The film shows Frank (Bruce Willis), who runs a private detective office. The boss asks his employees to cover for him during a business meeting, without specifying what is happening. Negotiations end with gunshots and Frank is killed. The death of his boss haunts Lionel (Edward Norton) – he is grateful to Frank for appreciating his talent for remembering details, despite the behavioral characteristics of Tourette’s syndrome. In memory of the deceased, the hero begins his investigation, risking being caught by gangsters. He finds clues at protests against the New York authorities, who are mercilessly changing the city’s infrastructure, and ends up surrounded by the owner of a jazz club.

It is worth recognizing that Edward Norton managed to create a suitable, in his own way, old-fashioned atmosphere of the 50s, where there is room for criminal showdowns, off-screen reflections and intriguing twists. True, the positive perception of these film elements is in some places noticeably spoiled by the high-speed manner of presenting the story.


The beginning of the film is somewhat chaotic and unclear, which gives the impression that the film is unlikely to be successful. Fortunately, “Orphan Brooklyn” is one of those films that gradually gains audience engagement, making up for its shortcomings with beautiful surroundings.

Gradually, the plot turns into a detective story, a large number of characters and details appear in it (presented at the pace of a tongue twister) – mainly this is important, but difficult to digest information about the work of the municipality. Although, if you know the biography of Robert Moses, who played a controversial role in the development of New York, the plot becomes much more interesting. If the details of his life are unknown, you will have to keep up with the thoughts and observations of the main character, simultaneously figuring out who is who.


It is worth recognizing that thanks to the central character, this story is interesting at any level of awareness. The film primarily focuses on the smart and resourceful Lionel, who is forced to cope with tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Edward Norton (both from the director’s and from the actor’s side) tries to show how much effort the investigation costs the character, without causing inappropriate tearful pity for him. From the very beginning, Lionel becomes a guide in the intricate plot and with each scene he wins over him more and more.

Of course, Lionel’s interaction with other heroes, including not only Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin, but also Willem Dafoe, also arouses curiosity. The special intrigue of the script is reserved for the character played by actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, thanks to whom a bar with jazz musicians appears in the film.


The musical accompaniment of the film is also an important theme of the film. Trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis was enlisted to create a soundtrack that evokes a distinctive period in American history (there’s plenty of time in the film to get into his music). The tape also features the song “Daily Battles,” written by Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Flea of ​​the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At a certain point, the composition becomes an impetus for accepting the film and understanding the main character.

Overall, “Orphan Brooklyn” is a decent film whose potential is not apparent in the opening scenes. The viewer will have two and a half hours to figure it out. This timing becomes the result of Norton’s socio-political line, superimposed on the idea of ​​the original novel. Sometimes the multi-faceted addition burdens the narrative, which is already confusing in places. But by the end, all the lines become clearer, and the impressions of the film remain good.


a good film with an interesting main character and a 50s atmosphere. At first, its production does not seem to be the most successful, but over time it reveals itself from different sides.

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