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Posts Tagged ‘Gugu Mbatha-Raw’

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Edward Norton

“MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” My rating: C+

144 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s easy enough to understand why an actor of Edward Norton’s capabilities — or even an actor of lesser capabilities — would jump at the chance to portray Lionel Essrog,  the central character of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn.

Lionel lives in NYC and works in private investigations. He has a photographic memory. He’s smart.

And, oh yeah, he’s got Tourette’s syndrome, which leads to involuntary squawking, head jerking and explosions of inappropriate language. Not to mention a sense of social isolation. The poor schlub has never been in a love affair.

In other word’s, Lionel is an actor’s feast.

Wish Norton had left it at that.  For “Motherless Brooklyn” he also serves as scriptwriter and director (only his second behind-the-camera outing since 2000’s”Keeping the Faith”) and one cannot help but feel he was pulled too many ways, that his first love here is a character that he can really chow down on and that most everything else is an afterthought.

It’s not exactly a vanity project — too many big names and skilled artists are involved for that — but one can only wonder what would have happened with someone else calling the shots.

As screenwriter Norton has worked some major changes…for starters he sets the story in the early 1950s rather than the 1999 of the novel (the better to milk the yarn’s noir elements).  The tale still pivots on the murder early on of Lionel’s boss, legendary private eye Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), but in this retelling solving the crime leads not to underworld heavyweights but to governmental malfeasance.

You see, though it’s set 60 years ago, “Motherless” has a very contemporary view of politics.

Radiating arrogant malevolence, Alec Baldwin co-stars as Moses Randolph, a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker inspired by  Robert Moses, the real-life New York public official who for decades served as the powerful “master builder” of the modern city despite never having been elected to any office.

Our twitching hero’s investigation leads him to Laura, a beautiful African American lawyer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her thuggish nightclub-owner stepfather (Robert Wisdom), and a cool-blowing jazz trumpeter (Michael Kenneth Williams) rather obviously inspired by Miles Davis.

We also meet Lionel’s gumshoe co-workers, portrayed by Bobby Canavale, Ethan Suplee, and Dallas Roberts.

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Matthew McConaghy

Matthew McConaughey

“THE FREE STATE OF JONES”  My rating: C+

139 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A little-known and thought-provoking slice of Civil War arcana gets the full Hollywood treatment in “The Free State of Jones.”

Too bad it rarely rises above the level of a well-staged history lesson.

Written and directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey, this long (2 hours 20 minutes) epic is a Southern-fried melding of “Robin Hood” and “Spartacus.”

McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a real-life Mississippian who comes to believe he and his fellow poor whites are dying in the war for a system that only enriches wealthy slave owners.

Going AWOL from the Confederate army, Newton returns to his native Jones County, joining other fugitives — escaped slaves and army deserters — in an impregnable swamp.

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