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Film / Motherless Brooklyn

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Motherless Brooklyn is a 2019 neo-noir drama directed by, written by, and starring Edward Norton alongside an All-Star Cast loosely based off the novel of the same name.

In 1950s New York City, Lionel "Brooklyn" Essrog (Norton) is a Private Detective suffering from Tourette's Syndrome working for his adoptive father Frank Minna's (Bruce Willis) detective agency and car service alongside his fellow orphans Gilbert Coney (Ethan Suplee), Tony Vermonte (Bobby Cannavale), and Danny Fantl (Dallas Roberts). After Frank is shot with his own gun after attempting to blackmail some shadowy people connected to a mysterious case he was working on, Lionel begins investigating the case, hoping to bring Frank's killers to justice, only to find a massive conspiracy that extends all the way to the top of the local government.

List of tropes applying to the film:

  • The Ace: Lionel considers the agency's leader Frank to be this. He turns out to have been more of a Smug Snake.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Moses finds the protester's chant that "Mo must go!" pretty funny, and laughs at it.
  • Adaptational Badass: In the original book Danny stays in the background after Frank's assassination, trying to lay low and not get involved. In the film he does contribute to it for a while before eventually backing off after being beaten up by some thugs. The film also has him be a WWII veteran who served in the Battle of the Bulge.
  • A Father to His Men: Frank, literally.
  • Agony of the Feet: During his assassination attempt on Laura, Lionel shoots the Giant Man in the foot.
  • Bait-and-Switch: While snooping around at a nightclub, Lionel questions a beautiful nightclub singer, who looks like she'll be his love interest. When she asks him for a smoke, he tries to light up a match to light her cigarette, only for his Tourette's to cause him to repeatedly blow it out, resulting in her angrily leaving.
  • Bald of Evil: Lieberman's henchman Lou is bald, and a total jackass on top of being involved in the conspiracy.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Paul has a bushy beard, which he grew after he fell from grace.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one, Lionel's gotten Laura to a location only he knows about far away from Moses' goons, Lieberman is almost certainly going to be killed, and Lionel gave Gleason the birth certificates and documents Moses tried so hard to hide, which will likely ruin his career. However, Frank and Billy are still dead, Lionel's adoptive brother Tony betrayed him and tried to kill him, and Moses denied Paul's plans to revolutionize New York's electrical grid out of spite.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The main characters are all various shades of gray, whereas the villains are all devoid of redeeming qualities. Laura and Horowitz are brave, kindhearted protesters, Paul is a good man who doesn't want to risk his project that will benefit all of New York or his niece Laura's life, Lionel is a mildly unscrupulous but overall good guy, Trumpet Man is an occasionally violent but usually friendly and calm musician who treats others with respect, Gilbert and Danny want to solve the murder of Frank but just not with as much intensity and feeling as Lionel (who they care about but can be frustrated over) and Frank and Billy are Jerks With A Heart Of Gold whose blackmail scheme nearly gets Laura killed, but only wanted to benefit their families. On the other hand, Moses is a power-hungry sociopath who ruins people's lives out of spite, Lieberman is a corrupt businessman who runs people out of their homes for a quick buck, and Lou and the Giant Man are brutal thugs.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Frank was killed when he tried to blackmail Lieberman and Moses with incriminating evidence he had on their scheme, and Lieberman killed him for it. However, this results in them not knowing where the evidence actually is, putting them in more danger than they would have been in if they had just payed him to keep it quiet like he asked. Billy, who was in on the scheme, gets silenced as well.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Lieberman is implied to be Jewish, and helped run out the residents of a Jewish neighborhood to make way for a park.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Laura loses some of her faith in Lionel after discovering his true identity, though he quickly becomes a Rebuilt Pedestal.
    • Lionel spends most of the film trying to emulate Frank, to the point of donning his hat and using his gun. After learning Frank was a greedy blackmailer, Lionel leaves the hat behind during his second meeting with Moses. However, in his Internal Monologue, Lionel notes he still loves Frank for taking him in and rescuing him from his abusive orphanage.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lionel's Tourette's repeatedly cause problems for him, and wind up making his investigation harder. He also gets beaten up a lot.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Lionel, who has a Photographic Memory and is pretty good at PI work, with the exception of talking to people, though he gets better at it.
  • The Brute: The Giant Man, a large henchman working for the conspiracy.
  • Cain and Abel: The kindhearted and selfless Paul is the brother to the greedy, spiteful, racist Moses.
  • Catchphrase: Lionel often shouts out "If!" in the throes of his Tourette's.
  • Child by Rape: Laura is the daughter of a black maid Moses repeatedly raped For the Evulz.
  • Cool Old Guy: Frank, a World War II veteran and longtime PI who never took shit from anyone.
  • Cool Old Lady: Gabby Horowitz, the elderly Jewish crusader against Moses' construction projects.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Moses Randolph, who tears down minority and working class neighborhoods to erect new properties and has bought off the entirety of the New York City government. His Dragon William Lieberman also qualifies.
  • Cowardly Lion: Paul is afraid to go public with his information on Moses because it could jeopardize his plans for getting Moses to implement his revolutionary plans for New York's electrical grid and Laura's life.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paul and Frank.
  • Death by Materialism: Billy and Frank were killed because they tried to blackmail Moses for money.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Lionel refers to black people as "colored people." Plus, the villains are racist old white business moguls.
  • Da Chief: Tony becomes this after inheriting ownership of the PI agency.
  • Dead Star Walking: Bruce Willis is dead in the first couple of scenes.
  • Dirty Cop: The detective in charge of investigating Billy's death is implied to be on Moses' payroll.
  • Disney Villain Death: The Giant Man meets his end when Laura and Lionel shove him off a fire escape and he falls several stories into the pavement.
  • Doomed Appointment: The bad guys kill Billy right before Lionel enters his nightclub for their meeting.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: William Lieberman is only working with Moses because Moses' projects give him kickbacks. It's heavily implied Moses kills him over it.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Tony is working for the conspiracy and has been ever since Frank died.
  • Fallen Hero: According to Paul, Moses was once a genuine man of the people who desired to help the world, but somewhere along the way he became a cold, power hungry monster.
  • Fat and Skinny: Lionel and Gilbert, in the scenes where their working together.
    • The Randolph brothers as well. While Moses is not very overweight, he has a noticeably heavy build while Paul has Willem Dafoe's slender physique. It nicely reflects how one has spent much of his life in luxury while the other has been forced into near poverty.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Lionel's colleague Gilbert is an irritable, chunky man who eats pastries and reads comic books while on the job and can't properly use either a gun or a camera.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Moses, who acts like a polite and affable man of the people, but is really a cold, power hungry sociopath who ruined his own brother's life because Paul tried to get him to take care of his daughter Laura, and ruins and murders anyone who gets in his way.
  • Giant Mook: One of Minna's killers is an enormous, mean-spirited brute who chases Lionel and Laura even after being shot through the foot.
  • Greedy Jew: Lieberman, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who goes along with Moses' plot because he's getting kickbacks from it. Averted with Gabby Horowitz, the leader of the protests.
  • Hero of Another Story: Pretty much every character in the film is the star of their own movie, the connection between all of these stories being that Moses is the villain. Lionel is just the guy we spend the whole film following.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason Billy and Frank were killed.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: It's not immediately obvious, but Frank insists Lionel take his hat. Hidden inside is a locker key needed to get important evidence.
  • Improvised Weapon: Trumpet Man dispatches Lou by hitting him in the head with one of his trumpets.
  • Incoming Ham: Moses is introduced barging into a relaxed meeting between city officials, screaming at them to sign some papers at the top of his lungs while swearing up a storm.
  • Internal Monologue: Lionel has one, which explains his backstory, his thought process, and the reasons for his quirks.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Jacob Gleason. Lionel pretends to be him, and to pay him back, hands him the incriminating documents.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Frank's widow Julia is more upset about how his death affects her and her financial situation rather than the fact that, you know, he's dead.
    • Moses believes that his power means that he can do whatever he wants and spits on ideals and morals, proclaiming that he doesn't give a damn about the lives he's ruined because those were "lesser people."
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Tony constantly mocks Lionel and cares more about continuing to make money than investigating Frank's murder. He also tells Lionel to tell Julia Minna that her husband's last words were about her, stopped an abusive Catholic school teacher from beating up Lionel when they were kids, and begins to show some respect for Lionel's deductive skills. But at the end of the day, he's sleeping with Frank's wife, sells out to Frank's killers without a trace of remorse, and tries to strangle Lionel to keep him from warning Laura that her life is in danger.
  • Large Ham: Moses and Paul Randolph. It must be In the Blood.
  • Never Suicide: The villains stage Billy's death as a suicide.
  • Nice Guy: Lionel is earnest, cordial whenever possible and not prone to getting mad at people who don't deserve it.
  • Nice Girl: Laura, which is what motivates Lionel to help her.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Lionel's fellow detectives and former orphans Danny, Tony, and Gilbert. Danny is a decent man who seems to understand Lionel and helps him investigate Frank's murder early on. Tony generally mocks Lionel and cares more about making money after Frank's death. Gilbert is irritated by Lionel, but in a Vitriolic Best Buds way, and is upset by Frank's murder.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Moses builds his properties mainly on black neighborhoods because he's racist.
  • Private Detective: Lionel, Frank, Danny, Gilbert, and Tony operate an agency together, with Frank adopting the others from an orphanage to help out.
  • Quick Nip: Danny is often shown sipping from a flask.
  • Red Herring: The nightclub "Formosa," which Lionel assumes to be important after hearing it said during Frank's meeting with Lieberman. It turns out that what Frank said was "working for Moses," as in Moses Randolph.
  • Retired Badass: Billy was a Marine, until an injury took him out of commission.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Billy came back from World War II with a crippled arm and a ton of bitterness.
  • Trumplica: Moses Randolph bears a lot of resemblance to Donald Trump, often talking about how he will make "this city great!" in his speeches and being played by Alec Baldwin, who famously did impersonations of Trump on Saturday Night Live.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Tony who died as the result of a Blackmail Backfire in the book.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Lieberman admits they underestimated Lionel, having believed him to be one of the least competent of Minna's agency due to his Tourette's.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After Frank dies, Tony immediately starts having sex with his widow Julia and refuses to investigate the people who killed him, because he's working for them.
  • Verbal Tic: Among other things, Lionel has a habit of saying "If!" frequently.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Moses Randolph.
    Lionel: But he'd be the most hated guy in the city, he'd piss everybody off.
    Paul: They love him. That's what makes me so... He flies above it, they revere him.
    Lionel: 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. The day that Rockaway Beach opened, Moses Randolph became a folk hero in this town. People don't realize how much he hates them. "The man of the public who hates people."
  • Visionary Villain: Moses wants to bring New York into the future and massively improve the city's structure and is completely indifferent to who gets their lives ruined in the process.
  • We Can Rule Together: Both Moses and Tony make relatively sincere but self-serving offers for Lionel to work alongside them.
  • Wham Line:
    Lionel: You said they're working Formosa, what does that mean?
    Paul: I said they're working for Moses, you know, Moses Randolph.
    • And later:
    Laura: No, that's not my father Billy meeting with my uncle Paul, that's my uncle Billy meeting with my father Paul!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Gilbert and Danny vanish from focus after a while and it isn't shown how they take to Lionel leaving and the reveal of Tony's betrayal.
  • Within Arm's Reach: Lionel manages to win his fight with Tony by reaching for a nearby sugar dispenser.
  • You Killed My Father: Lieberman shot Frank with his own gun.
  • You Have Failed Me: Lionel informs Moses that Lieberman was only aiding him to scam money out of him, and it's pretty clear Moses is going to kill him over it.