Toronto: 'Motherless Brooklyn' May Face an Uphill Climb With Film Academy

Motherless Brooklyn, a passion project for Edward Norton — he adapted Jonathan Lethem's 1999 Chinatown-esque novel into the script for and directed, produced and stars in the movie — had its Toronto International Film Festival premiere on Tuesday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre, where it was warmly received.

It's kind of incredible that an ambitious neo-noir film of this sort even got made in 2019 by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros., which is set to release it Nov. 1. But, despite the best intentions of a lot of people — including Norton and an excellent cast that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Michael K. Williams, Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones and Leslie Mann — and an autumn rollout, I would be surprised if the film factored much into the awards season.

The idea of telling a story about a 1950s New York detective (Norton) investigating the murder of his boss (Willis) lead from Brooklyn to the black jazz clubs of Harlem to Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs (who, under different names, are played by Baldwin and Jones) was an interesting one. The idea of spreading the story over nearly two-and-a-half hours — about one-third of which could have been eliminated if the script scrapped the detective's Tourette's syndrome, which adds nothing to the story and becomes unbearable — was not.

Norton does as well as anyone could have done in a difficult part, but the standout, to me, was Mbatha-Raw as the woman caught in the middle of all the craziness. Warners' best hope for some above-the-line awards traction would probably be to push her for a supporting actress nomination. It might also find support for production designer Beth Mickle, costume designer Amy Roth and composer Daniel Pemberton.