Starring: Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Leslie Mann, Bobby Cannavale, Fisher Stevens, Cherry Jones
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Crime drama written and directed by Edward Norton. The story is set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, and follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a private detective with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he tries to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Armed only with a few clues and the powerful engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely-guarded secrets that hold the fate of the whole city in the balance.
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Our Favorite Quotes:'Sometimes you do everything you're supposed to, and it all still goes to sh*t.' - Danny Fantl (Motherless Brooklyn) Click To Tweet 'When someone isn’t seen for what they truly are, that’s a very dangerous thing.' - Paul (Motherless Brooklyn) Click To Tweet 'Satisfaction won't unburden a tortured heart.' - Paul (Motherless Brooklyn) Click To Tweet
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank always used to say, “Tell your story walking, pal.” He was more philosophical than your average gumshoe, but he liked to do his talking on the move. So, here’s how it all went down. I got something wrong with my head. That’s the first thing to know. It’s like having glass in the brain. I can’t stop picking things apart, twisting them around, reassembling them. Words and sounds, especially. It’s like an itch that has to be scratched.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] I got threads in my heads. I got threads in my heads! I got threads in my heads, man!
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] And I twitch a lot. It’s hard to miss. It makes me look like a goddamn spastic, but if I try to hold it back, it just makes it worse.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] The nun said my soul wasn’t at peace with God and I should do penance. Frank said, anyone teaching God’s love while they hit you with a stick should be ignored on every subject.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank Minna. If you had to pick just one guy to be on your side, he’s the one you’d want. It’s Minna’s game. We’re all just in the lineup.
Gilbert Coney: What’s going down here, Frank?
Frank Minna: I got to keep this under my hat, boys.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Fat cats in hats!
Frank Minna: Them’s the ones, pal. Let’s catch a big score and get fat ourselves.
Gilbert Coney: Okay, I don’t have a gun.
Frank Minna: That’s what I count on. That’s how I sleep at night, you with no gun. I got a gun. You just show up. I wouldn’t want you chuckleheads coming up a staircase with a hairpin and a harmonica.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Hairy chin, harmony harp! Quit winding me up.
Frank Minna: With an unlit cigar and a chicken wing. Right, Brooklyn?
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Chicky wing ding. I wing that chick in the ding.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Bailey’s what my head calls me. It calls me out whenever I try to resist it. There’s things that calm it down. Gum, weed. Sometimes, something a little stronger if I’m in bad shape. But if I try to put a lid on it, it gets worse. If I get nervous, it gets worse. If I get excited, it gets worse. It’s the argument I can’t win.
[over the phone while Frank is about to have is meeting]
Lionel Essrog: Is everything cool, boss?
Frank Minna: Cool as can be. Just a little chat.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] “Here lies Frank Minna. Cool as can be.” They’ll carve that on his f**king tombstone. I don’t know if it was growing up in Greenpoint, or fighting the Japanese, but he was cool under pressure in a way you can’t teach. I was just happy to have a job on his team. And if there’s one thing my pain in the a** brain does know how to do, it’s listen and remember things.
[after they find Frank shot and are taking him to the hospital]
Frank Minna: Put my watch and my wallet in my hat, and leave it in the car. I don’t want anybody stealing it.
Gilbert Coney: What the f**k happened, Frank?
Frank Minna: I took them on a wild goose chase, and I tried to slip them.
Lionel Essrog: We should have jumped in sooner. I thought you were signaling me off.
Frank Minna: No, not your fault. I almost made it. I forgot they had my gun. I got through Guadalcanal without a scratch, and I get shot with my own gun in Queens.
[as Frank is lying in the hospital bleeding from a gunshot wound]
Frank Minna: Oh, sh*t, Brooklyn, she’s in trouble now.
Lionel Essrog: Who? Who was that in that room, boss?
Frank Minna: Played out of my league. I should have kept her under my…
[screams in pain]
Frank Minna: You’re no freak.
Lionel Essrog: Yeah, okay. Stay with me, okay? Stay with me. You were working for those guys. Who were they?
Frank Minna: Formosa.
Lionel Essrog: Formosa? What is that?
Frank Minna: Formosa.
[Frank passes out]
Nurse: I don’t have a pulse.
Doctor: Move! Get Out!
[they throw Lionel out as they try to revive Frank, but he dies]
[after Frank dies]
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Frankly. Frankety. Franko! Frankly. Frankety. Franko!
Julia Minna: You got no idea who did this?
Lionel Essrog: No. If I figure it out, I’m going to make them regret it though. I promise you that.
Julia Minna: Don’t promise me. It makes no difference to me one way or the other.
Tony Vermonte: Right now, just the four of us. Does anybody know what Frank was into on this?
Gilbert Coney: He just said to meet him for a sit. He didn’t even make it like it was a big thing.
Lionel Essrog: He was nervous, though.
Tony Vermonte: Nervous, how?
Gilbert Coney: He wasn’t nervous.
Lionel Essrog: Were you on that line, dumb sh*t? I’m telling you, I heard it, he was nervous. Nervous Nellie! It was in his voice.
[referring to Frank]
Tony Vermonte: And I’m not sticking my nose around his dead cards, risk ending up on a slab for it. I say we got a lot of bills to pay, and we ought to just get at it.
Lionel Essrog: You owe him more than that, T.
Tony Vermonte: Yeah, well, you figure out what the f**k it was all about, you let us know. Alright, meantime, I got to finish up on the rabbi’s wife. She’s banging a butcher who ain’t kosher, and I think he’s really going to give her the boot this time, and that’s going to be the last of that ride.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Tony, and Coney, and Danny, and me, before we were Minna’s men, we were just dead-end kids at the Catholic orphanage. I was worse in there. A total freakshow. No one knew what to do with it.
[referring to his Tourette’s]
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] The nuns thought they were going to beat it out of me. One of them in particular. Until Tony grabbed the paddle from her, and said if she hit me again, he was going to give it to her twice as hard. Coney and Danny were standing behind him when he said it, and she knew they weren’t bluffing. After that, I was in their crew.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank was just from the neighborhood. He was smart. Everybody knew he was going places. Everybody liked him. He was friends with one of the priests, and he heard I had a thing for remembering. Numbers, and words, and things, and he had uses for that. He was the one that taught me how to use my head, get it under control, make it work for me. He took all of us under his wing eventually. Gave us a place in this sh**ty world.
[referring to Frank]
Lionel Essrog: I should have never let him get in that car. I think I blew it, Danny.
Danny Fantl: I had a sergeant once in the Bulge. He told me, “Sometimes you do everything you’re supposed to, and it all still goes to sh*t.” Hm? It ain’t on you, bud.
Lionel Essrog: Thanks, D.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank didn’t have to cover for me. He just never put me into situations that were going to punch my buttons. Talking to people, getting information out of them, that’s the bread and butter of the trade, but never my strong suit. Especially if a girl shows up in the mix, and, in this line of work, they usually do.
[as Lionel is in The Farmosa Lounge asking around if anyone knew Frank]
Formosa Hostess: You got a light?
[Lionel lights a match and immediately blows it out]
Formosa Hostess: A tease.
[Lionel lights a match again and blows it out again]
Lionel Essrog: Sorry.
[he lights a match again and does the same thing again]
Formosa Hostess: Jesus. Forget I asked.
[she turns and walks off]
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] A**-talk, Bailey!
Formosa Hostess: Classy!
Formosa Bartender: You got something against blondes?
Lionel Essrog: It’s got to sound right, or I can’t stop doing it.
Formosa Bartender: Must be inconvenient.
Lionel Essrog: Buddy, you don’t know the half of it.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] On my average day, the weed will handle my twitching and shouting, let me get to sleep. But it makes my thinking fuzzy. In my dreams, I’m calm and clear, like I was when I was a kid. Even after my head started messing with me, my mother could settle it down. She’d sing soft songs, stroke the back of my neck, and it would leave me for a while. We’d lie on the bed, talk about all the places we were going to go.
[referring to the photos they’ve taken of Laura]
Lionel Essrog: That’s her. That’s the colored girl that Frank was following.
Tony Vermonte: Alright, I’m with you, okay? It’s just, it’s still a little thin.
Gilbert Coney: Skeletal.
Lionel Essrog: Thin? What? We already ID’d her. We’ve been at it one day.
Tony Vermonte: Well, you know, whatever it is, it’s got to be big, they’re going this far, right? So, it’s got to be worth something then. I’ll tell you what, Freakshow, Gil and I, we’ll stay on the money work, just to keep us afloat, you and Danny keep sniffing this. Let’s see what we get.
Tony Vermonte: We’re working on this thing together. We find who did this, and we square accounts.
Lionel Essrog: If you say so, yeah.
[referring to what Lionel said as he twitched as they get thrown out of the public meeting with Moses]
Paul: “Hammy Ham House Head?” That’s good. I got to remember that one.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] If!
Paul: Yeah, well, that’s the rub in life, alright. If. If only.
Lionel Essrog: You just said Formosa. What is that?
Paul: What’s Formosa?
Lionel Essrog: You said, “Working Formosa.” What does that mean?
Paul: No, Jesus, I said, “They’re all working for Moses.” Moses Randolph.
[referring to Moses]
Lionel Essrog: But he’d be the most hated guy in the city. I mean, he’d pi** everybody off.
Paul: They love him. That’s what makes me so… He flies above it. They revere him.
Lionel Essrog: Why?
Paul: Because he built the parks. As long as you’re the guy that brings people parks, you walk with the angels, you can’t lose.
[to Lionel; referring to Moses]
Paul: People don’t realize how much he hates them. “The hero of the public who hates people.” That’s your headline.
Paul: [to Lionel] Emerson said that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man. This town is run by the Borough Authority and the Borough Authority is Moses Randolph.
[referring to Paul and Moses]
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] What makes a person go against their own brother? All my life, I’d never had a family, so I never could understand people who did and let it get ugly. My crazy brain was telling me I should keep pulling on that thread, but whatever Frank found, he found it following the girl. So I just kept chasing his footsteps.
[after he meets Laura]
Lionel Essrog: I got a condition, okay? It makes me say funny things, but I’m not trying to be funny. I’m really not. I’m listening.
[referring to minority neighborhoods being bought out and demolished]
Lionel Essrog: Where does everybody go?
Laura Rose: Mostly just disappear. Fade away. Two hundred thousand in two years, just from this part of Brooklyn.
Lionel Essrog: You know more than any secretary I ever met in my life.
Laura Rose: Secretary? Who told you that? I got a law degree, you know? I’ll pass the bar first time I sit too.
Lionel Essrog: Okay, then. Sorry.
[as he starts touching her shoulder due to his condition]
Lionel Essrog: I’m really sorry. I can’t help it, I got a…
Laura Rose: It’s okay. Just write about it, please. What happens to poor people in this city wasn’t news yesterday, and it won’t be tomorrow. But you’d think somebody would care what happens to Brooklyn. It’s only the biggest city on Earth.
[as he’s giving Laura a ride home]
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Bebop, Bailey, in the Metropolitan Bopera House! Oh, God. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Laura Rose: Don’t be sorry. It’s kind of funny.
Lionel Essrog: Yeah? Well, hang around a little while, and see what you think.
[referring to Lionel’s condition]
Laura Rose: What is all that, anyway?
Lionel Essrog: I don’t know. I never got a name for it. It’s like a piece in my head broke off and got a life of its own, and then just decided to keep joyriding me for kicks.
Lionel Essrog: Kicks and tics! Licks and tics! Sorry.
Laura Rose: It’s okay.
[referring to his condition]
Lionel Essrog: It’s like living with an anarchist, you know. But the funny thing is, it also has to have everything in its right place. Like things have to be ordered, and lined up just right. Everything has to sound just right, or else it really, it’ll really put me into knots, until I fix it. Like, I’m talking to you right now, right? But that part of my head, it’s worrying that the bills in my wallet aren’t lined up all in the right sequence, and it’s saying, “Stop talking to this girl, and deal with this.” It’s not fair.
Laura Rose: Hey, we all got our daily battles, right?
Lionel Essrog: Yeah, fair enough.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Kiss her face all night, Bailey!
[Laura starts laughing]
Lionel Essrog: Oh, God. I really am sorry.
Laura Rose: It’s okay.
Lionel Essrog: I don’t mean nothing by it.
Laura Rose: Don’t be sorry.
[after Trumpet Man rescues Lionel from being beaten by Billy’s men, and lets him stay at his apartment]
Lionel Essrog: I got something wrong with my head, and the music really, really set it off. I’m sorry.
Trumpet Man: Don’t be sorry. You got a head just like mine, always boiling over. Turning things around. But that’s music. Controls you more than you control it, once it gets in you. Some people call it a gift, but it’s a brain affliction just the same.
Lionel Essrog: Yeah, well, I just twitch and shout. At least you got a horn to push it through, make it sound pretty.
Trumpet Man: Yeah, but there’s a lot of other hours in the day though. You know what I’m saying? Too many.
[referring to Moses]
Paul: He’s the most powerful man in the history of the city! He’s an autocratic Caesar, but nobody realizes it. They are just all walking around, calm as Hindu cows, thinking they live in a democracy, so what could happen? Are you going to write about this, or what?
Lionel Essrog: If you know so much about him, why haven’t you taken him down?
Paul: Because it can’t be me.
Lionel Essrog: No, because you’re his brother.
Paul: No, because I still have dreams. That’s why. Dreams that I’m this close to realizing. It’s my contribution to society. My legacy! I’m not going to risk it.
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank was the only person I knew who thought the way we won the war was going to cause us problems. He said, after the Crash, we were digging ourselves out by taking care of each other. Now that we’d seen what we could do with our brute strength, there was no going back. He said, from here on out, the game’s going to be about power from top to bottom.
[after Lionel finds Laura’s father, Billy, murdered and staged to look like a suicide]
Lionel Essrog: You all alone?
Laura Rose: You got no idea.
Lionel Essrog: It’s okay.
[as Laura starts crying, Lionel comforts her and kisses her forehead]
Laura Rose: Can you stay with me a while?
Lionel Essrog: You want me to?
[after spending the night with Laura to comfort her]
Laura Rose: Why are you being so nice to me?
Lionel Essrog: Because I think you’re a good person. You’re trying to make a difference. You actually care about what happens to other people. Not many people can say that. It’s a good way to be.
Laura Rose: You’re sweet.
[she takes his hand]
Lionel Essrog: I don’t think that’s how most people usually describe me when they meet me, but I’m glad that you think so.
Laura Rose: Anybody ever tell you you talk in your sleep?
Lionel Essrog: Um, I never slept with anyone.
Laura Rose: You never slept with anyone?
Lionel Essrog: I mean, I’ve been with a few girls, but just not the kind who want to stay and sleep with me.
Laura Rose: Who’s Frank?
Lionel Essrog: What?
Laura Rose: You said that name when you were asleep. You seemed upset. Was he your friend who…
Lionel Essrog: Yeah, I worked with him. I worked for him, but I met him when I was twelve. I was at that Catholic home for boys on DeKalb. They threw me in there when I was six, after my mother died. Frank kind of took me under his wing. You know, he never called me my name. He called me Brooklyn. Say, “Look at you, Motherless Brooklyn, you got no one looking out for you.”
Laura Rose: We all need someone looking out for us.
Laura Rose: You’re not a reporter, are you?
Lionel Essrog: No, and my name’s not Jake. It’s Lionel. Look, Frank is an investigator, okay? That’s who I worked for. They hired him to keep tabs on your committee. He was following you. I wasn’t trying to expose anything. I just was poking into it to try to figure out who killed him, and now there’s so many goddamn pieces, it’s like I got glass in my brain, and I don’t even know what I’m after anymore. I’m sorry for lying to you, but you got to believe what I’m saying. You’re webbed up in this somehow, and you’re in danger.
[after Lionel is taken to meet with Moses]
Moses Randolph: Very little I’ve achieved in my life has relied on legality. I’m not about to lean on that slender branch now, when things matter most.
Lionel Essrog: So, you’re above the law, is that it?
Moses Randolph: No. I’m just ahead of it.
Lionel Essrog: What’s the difference?
Moses Randolph: Well, the law’s a rule book we make for the times we find ourselves in. You rebuild the city, in my experience, the law will follow you and adapt to what you do.
Moses Randolph: The important thing in this life is to get things done. Those who can, build. Those who can’t, criticize. And I will not obstruct the great work of this world, while some chipmunks are screeching about having to relocate their nuts.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] Screech a nut, munk-chip! Chip a munk’s love nuts, man!
Moses Randolph: Talent and brains are rewarded in this building, Lionel. If you’re with us, I’ll see to it personally that your gifts are appreciated. But that’s the offer today. You let me know where you stand by tonight.
[after Lionel finds photos of Paul meeting with Billy]
Laura Rose: Remember that picture of my mother? Now look at Billy. Now look at me. You see? The rest of the world might look past me without seeing, but I don’t.
Lionel Essrog: Wait, they told you this?
Laura Rose: They never said so, but it doesn’t take much to put it together. Why else would he take such an interest in me? Take care of me when Billy was in the war? Pay for law school when he’s got nothing?
[after Lionel confronts Paul about Laura]
Paul: I knew you weren’t a reporter. Load of sh*t. You’re Minna’s guy.
Lionel Essrog: F**king right. He was my friend.
Paul: I’m sorry, but it’s not me. Frank put it all together. He and Billy thought they could get something out of it. Foolish greed. I tried to stop them. Told them that it would put her at risk, all of them. Now look, Frank gets killed, Billy panics and calls me for help, that’s your picture. You’re into something that you don’t understand.
[to Lionel; referring to Moses]
Paul: If you just stand up to him, on principle, like I did, he will ruin you for spite. But if you threaten his work, he will destroy you. Destroy.
Lionel Essrog: What’s it all about, Frank?
[he closes his eyes and sees vision of Frank]
Frank Minna: You remember what I said.
[he sees in flashback about what Frank said to them before going to his meeting]
Frank Minna: I got to keep this under my hat, boys.
[Lionel realizes that Frank hid something inside his hat, and finds the key to a station storage locker]
[after Lionel finds a property deed and Laura’s birth certificate, which reveals Moses is her father in Frank’s storage locker]
Lionel Essrog: You confronted him about it?
Paul: I begged him! I invoked every principle and value that we had been raised to champion. I was in anguish. You can’t understand. Our whole young life, he was my hero. We wrote a creed. We were going to fix the world together. But to serve people, you have to love people. Mo tried, but he was so brilliant, that he resented lesser minds and became hard. Obsessed with winning, addicted to power. Totally contemptuous of ideals. This phony “man of the people”. When someone isn’t seen for what they truly are, that’s a very dangerous thing.
[referring to Laura and Moses being her real father]
Lionel Essrog: Why not tell her?
Paul: Because she would have used it. She would’ve used it to good effect, but that would have destroyed Laura, totally. Satisfaction won’t unburden a tortured heart.
[after Lionel finds out that Tony has been working for Moses]
Lionel Essrog: How long you been f**king Julia? After all the things he did for you, you couldn’t go find someone else to bang?
Tony Vermonte: Everybody got to find their own way in this world, Lionel. What, you think I was just going to stay in Frank’s shadow all my life? Okay for you, not for me.
[referring to Laura as one of Moses’s men comes to kill her]
Lionel Essrog: She doesn’t know! She doesn’t know!
Lou: Makes no difference one way or the other.
Lionel Essrog: But I found what he’s looking for. Just tell him. Tell him I got it.
Lou: No, no, no, no. That offer expired. And they told me you were smart.
[just then Trumpet Man hits Lou in the head with his trumpet]
Laura Rose: What don’t I know?
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] It wasn’t the story she wanted to hear. No good was going to come from telling it, so I wanted to say, “It doesn’t matter. It’s got nothing to do with you.” But there’s no upside in lying to a woman who’s smarter than you. So, I told her the truth.
[as Lionel goes to meet with Moses]
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Frank told me once, if you’re up against someone bigger than you, someone you can’t beat toe to toe, make them think you respect their size, and then cut a deal that lets you walk out in one piece. Then figure out a way to stick it to them later without leaving your prints on the knife. Even walking in there, I wasn’t exactly sure how to play it. I was just hoping, in all that steam, he wouldn’t see me sweat.
[to Lionel after admitting that he raped Laura’s mother]
Moses Randolph: Do you have the first inkling how power works? Power is feeling, knowing, that you can do whatever you want, and not one f**king person can stop you. And if someone else has a dumb idea that you don’t like, well, that’s the end of that idea, or the end of that person, if you want. And if I want to build highways while the rest of the country is broke, I’ll punch through any damn neighborhood I want.
[referring to Frank]
Lionel Essrog: That gumshoe was my friend, and the girl’s the only reason you’re still breathing. Do whatever you want to this city, go build your pyramids on the Nile, just leave her alone. Anything happens to her, I mail it. That’s it. That’s all of it.
Moses Randolph: Let me make something clear. If you or my brother messes with what I intend to do, I’ll make her life worse than I’ve already made his. You tell him I said that.
Lionel Essrog: Well, I guess we got a deal then.
Moses Randolph: You come off weird, but you’re smart. You should have taken my offer. Could have made them all get on their knees and apologize. But if she’s anything like her mother, I understand the pull.
Lionel Essrog: Right.
Moses Randolph: One more thing. Tell my brother I read his masterwork. It’s as brilliant as everyone says. Nobody could have done it better, and it’s good for everyone, including me. There’s not a reason in the world to deny it. Tell him I’ll give him my thoughts in the morning.
[the next day Paul recieves the letter from Moses denyng his plan]
Lionel Essrog: [voice over] Growing up, I always thought Frank was a hero. But he was no crusader in the end. He was just a gumshoe trying to make a buck, like everyone else. But he didn’t have to go to that war. He was old enough to have skipped it, and he went anyway, because he actually thought this country was worth fighting for. I never had anything I cared about enough to look past my own problems, but Laura did. There was a story she wanted told, and I figured it was time to get off my a** and pick a side.
[we see Lionel has mailed the information on Moses to the reporter he stole his ID from]
[last lines; Lionel arrives at the property Frank left him, where Laura is waiting for him]
Laura Rose: What is this place?
Lionel Essrog: It was Frank’s. And looks like it’s mine now.
[he shows her the deed]
Laura Rose: Still looking out for you, after all. Funny how things turn out.
Lionel Essrog: Yeah. “Brooklyn’s big. Brooklyn’s big, but there’s things even bigger.”
Laura Rose: What’s that?
Lionel Essrog: I think it’s something Frank said to me, but I can’t remember when.
Laura Rose: Maybe this is what he meant.
Lionel Essrog: [twitching] If! If!
[as they sit together on the porch, Laura begins to rub his back to comfort him]
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