Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Edward Norton returns to directing for the first time since the 2000 romantic comedy Keeping The Faith, adapting Jonathan Lethem’s novel of the same name with great results. He stars as Lionel, a Tourette’s-afflicted private investigator in 1950s New York City, whose boss pulled him and his fellow co-workers from juvenile detention as youngsters and has kept them under his wing since. On a routine job working backup for him, Lionel witnesses his mentor’s murder and becomes intent on finding out why it happened; all he knows, at first, is that he was investigating a young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who has been working as an activist against the efforts of a building tycoon (Alec Baldwin) looking to transform Brooklyn’s slums with his highway projects. Looking into the quagmire of conflicting ambitions and the piling evidence of corruption and greed reveals the possibility that the city’s working-class neighbourhoods are intentionally being turned into projects in order to force the changes that will eventually come; meeting a random assortment of players, each with their own piece of the puzzle he is trying to solve, makes Lionel begin to believe that his boss found something specific and dangerous that got him killed. Played in a dampened but not dreary tone that suits the jazzy score and shadowy cinematography, this drama has moments of thrills that are quite nerve-wracking, increasing the tension as the mystery unfolds and reveals it be a well-known tale (namely the rotten core of the modernizing impulse of most American cities, as previously seen on the west coast in L.A. Confidential and Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Caring for the cast of characters is facilitated by their being so deeply sympathetic and performed by a uniformly outstanding cast, which also include an appealing Bruce Willis, a hilarious Leslie Mann as a glamorous Marie Windsor-type, the always outstanding and, best of them all, Willem Dafoe’s exceptional work as an impassioned scientist with his own dark secrets.