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Norton tackles corruption, politics in private eye film

Andrew Marszal

Agence France-Presse

Toronto, Canada  /  Fri, September 13, 2019  /  02:06 pm
Norton tackles corruption, politics in private eye film

Director/actor Edward Norton attends the premiere of 'Motherless Brooklyn' during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Day 6, at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 10, 2019, in Toronto, Ontario. (AFP/Valerie Macon)

Ed Norton's hard-boiled, jazz-inflected detective movie Motherless Brooklyn explores the corrupting influence of power at a time when vulgarity and bullying are being celebrated in politics, the star said Wednesday.

Set in 1950s New York, much of the film's cesspool of corruption and politics centers on the menacing presence of city planning boss Moses Randolph -- a thinly veiled Robert Moses, who really did demolish so-called "slums" populated by minorities to build vast highways through Brooklyn.

In turn, that character, who at one point insists he is "ahead of" rather than "above" the law, has been likened by critics to a "prefiguring of Donald Trump."

"These days it's incredible the degree to which vulgarity, of bullying, of violence are being reveled in," Norton -- who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film -- told journalists at Toronto's film festival.

"I thought it was interesting to look at what leads a person to get to the place where they're actually celebrating their capacity to behave that way."

Norton praised the portrayal of Randolph by Alec Baldwin -- who regularly depicts Trump on Saturday Night Live -- noting how "you can feel the unapologetic place he's reached."

Producer Rachel Shane told AFP the "themes of corruption and racism in our movie are very much universal and timeless, which is an unfortunate reality."

Read also: Joaquin Phoenix hails 'greatest' role as 'Joker' hits Toronto

The film, out November 1, is based on Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel, which Norton read around the same time he starred in Fight Club, and had wanted to adapt for the big screen ever since.

After his mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) is killed over a shadowy deal, Norton's private eye Lionel Essrog vows to track down those responsible, uncovering a tangled web of political corruption and blackmail while learning to fend for himself.

While the book was set in the '90s, Norton shifts the action back to an era of dangerous New York streets, societal upheaval and edgy Harlem jazz clubs -- Wynton Marsalis performs and helped create the score, along with Radiohead's Thom Yorke.

Asked about his acclaimed portrayal of a private eye battling undiagnosed Tourette syndrome, Norton said there is an "anarchic, creative beauty" to the syndrome that is liberating for performers and enables audiences to be "inside his head and outside."

"No two people have the same symptomatic expressions of it," he said.

Norton added that he shared some of the character's traits.

"The part of Lionel that can't move on from a thing until it sounds right probably led to moments where there were a few takes more than we needed," he said. "That compulsion to perfect something, I relate to."

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