Tag Archives: Cherry Jones

TIFF19: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn looks a lot cooler than it is. Gosh it pains me to say that. I really wanted Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn to be great, and it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself.

Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private detective who works for friend and boss Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who’s into something deeper than he should be. Lionel doesn’t know what, but when Frank winds up dead on his watch, you can be sure he’s going to find the fuck out.

Lionel, with his tics and Tourette’s, is not your typical P.I. – it’s hard for him to really stay under the radar when he’s yelling out rude things. But he does good work, and he’s very motivated to do right by his friend. Following the clues leads him to Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and to exactly where these things always lead: dirty politicians. Is there any other kind?

Anyway, the movie is a send-up to ye olde film noir of yesteryear, when men wore trenchcoats with deep pockets stuffed with revolvers and fedoras worn specifically so they could be doffed each time a dame walked into the office, though you could barely see her through the yellowed fog of cigarette smoke. The detective was haunted by his past, of course, possibly by a dame he didn’t save in time, but he was stoic, never talked about it much. Just fingered his gun and smoked some more. Motherless Brooklyn puts a slight spin on things by introducing a detective who can’t shut up. And gives him a dame who is, and I’ll whisper this part: not white.

The film is so meticulously put together that sometimes it feels more like a history lesson than gumshoe caper; the diorama of NYC is gritty and seedy, so lovingly rendered that it doubtless earns its A+ but also serves as a distraction in an already bloated movie. And the maddening thing about Motherless Brooklyn is the performances are roundly very good, engaging and solid. But when you throw in the period setting and the metaphors and the big moods and Norton’s search for political relevance, something is bound to get lost. And clocking in at 2.5 hours, that’s a long time to devote your attention to each of the film’s moving parts, especially when things don’t quite add up to what they’ve promised. I also, if I may, think this was a missed opportunity to shoot in black and white. I mean, go all in if you’re gonna go all in. The actual result is a bit of a mixed bag. I think the good outweighs the bad, but at 144 minutes, I think there was opportunity to excise some of the bad completely, but no one has the courage to really wield the knife.

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The Party

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her recent promotion (her husband Bill – Timothy Spall – is quite useless). The guests include a couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer), who’ve just found out they’re expecting triplets, another couple, April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) having one ‘last supper’ before they break up forever, and half of a couple, Tom (Cillian Murphy) who brought his own cocaine and gun. Are we having fun yet?

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I love Patricia Clarkson, luminous Patricia Clarkson, and this is the script that she deserves – compact but with lots of punch. Serving as best friend to Kristin Scott Thomas, the two make a fine pair for this satire and I probably would have really loved this film had it just been their two glorious faces in black and white, conversing back and forth in their clipped and candid way.

The film is well-directed by Sally Potter. Basically told in real time, the editing is quick and fluid as we bounce between the various characters and their various bombshells. The Party feels and is a very small film but it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the very talented actors. It’s not very penetrating and at times it embraces its farcical nature; I’m not sure this is the kind of film to stick with you for any length of time. But for the performances alone, and Clarkson’s in particular, I’d say there are worse ways to waste 71 minutes.