Edward Norton on the set of ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ (Glen Wilson)
Film at Lincoln Center has revealed that a reimagining of Jonathan Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn, starring and written and directed by Edward Norton, will close this year’s New York Film Festival on October 11th.
“NYFF has been my hometown festival for nearly 30 years, and it’s consistently one of the best curated festivals in the world,” Norton said in a statement. “Every year I look forward to meeting up with old friends and colleagues to go watch the year’s best films in their program. Their audiences are serious about film, offering just the right balance of celebratory fun and thoughtful conversation. NYFF always straddles everything I love about the movies. To have this particular film—which grew out of my love affair with New York—selected for Closing Night is just a huge thrill…a dream come true, actually.”
Earlier this week, it was announced that The Irishman, the Martin Scorsese-helmed look at Jimmy Hoffa’s inner circle, starring Robert De Niro, Al Paino, Harvey Keitel, and Joe Pesci, would open the NYFF on September 27th, and Marriage Story, a look at divorcing parents (starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johnansson) from director Noah Baumbach, would be the festival’s centerpiece screening on October 4th.
According to the NYFF, this is not the Motherless Brooklyn you may have read:
In a radical decision, writer-director Edward Norton has borrowed the main character of Jonathan Lethem’s best-selling novel Motherless Brooklyn as inspiration for an entirely new, richly woven neo-noir narrative, set in 1950s New York. Emotionally shattered by a botched job, Lionel Essrog (Norton), a lonely private detective with Tourette syndrome, finds himself drawn into a multilayered conspiracy that expands to encompass the city’s ever-growing racial divide and the devious personal and political machinations of a Robert Moses-like master builder, played by Alec Baldwin. Featuring a rigorously controlled star turn by Norton and outstanding additional supporting performances by Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Mann, and Cherry Jones, plus a haunting soundtrack (featuring a score by Daniel Pemberton, with orchestration by Wynton Marsalis, and an original song by Thom Yorke), Motherless Brooklyn is the kind of production Hollywood almost never makes anymore, and a complexly conceived, robust evocation of a bygone era of New York that speaks to our present moment.
“Edward Norton has taken Jonathan Lethem’s novel as a jumping-off point to craft a wildly imaginative and extravagant love letter to New York, a beautifully told semi-musical hard-boiled yarn grounded in the mid-20th century history of the city,” Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said. “What a way to close the festival!”
Apparently, the song from Yorke made Norton cry, who in turn changed the film to better incorporate it. Norton told Rolling Stone, “[Yorke] sent me this track of him on a piano singing it and I was sitting on the edge of my bed in the dark, crying from listening to this song. It’s so instantly heartbreaking and evocative of so many of the themes to the movie without being overly specific to them, but so much so, I thought the idea of daily battles that everyone is fighting, that you’re trying to rise up and out of, was so evocative that I went back into the script and put the phrase into a scene.”
The film’s production has also been mired in tragedy and controversy: A firefighter was killed while fighting a blaze that broke out in a Harlem townhouse during shooting. A fire marshal later accused the FDNY of covering up the incident to protect Norton, and a later FDNY report noted that clutter from the set and toxic fumes led to firefighter Michael Davidson’s death. Now, there are a number of lawsuits, including one from Davidson’s widow against the production, and one from the production company against the townhouse’s owner.