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The way filmmakers’ passion projects always take eons getting from conception to finished product, it seems like we should change it so that passion is measured by time instead of emotions. One of my favorite actors working, Edward Norton, has spent the last 15 years wanting to adapt Jonathan Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn, and his time has finally come. Brett Ratner and James Packer’s RatPac Entertainment are teaming with Norton’s Class 5 Films to make this Norton’s second directorial feature. Considering his first film was 2000’s "a priest, a rabbi and a hottie" comedy Keeping the Faith, I think it’s safe to prematurely call Motherless Brooklyn Norton’s best film yet.
Published by Vintage in 1999, the uniquely told novel centers on Lionel Essrog, a Brooklyn private detective with a very noticeable case of Tourette’s syndrome that forces him to bark and use words in an interesting way. He teams up with three boys from his former orphanage and starts up a detective agency/limo service for the notorious New York mobster Frank Minna, which makes Lionel’s work a little less than lawful. Things take a wild turn when Minna gets stabbed to death, and it’s up to Lionel to somehow get the words out that will lead him to his boss’ killer.
While cinema has seen just about every personal affliction imaginable put to use, Tourette’s is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention, unless it’s within a highly immature comedy that can take advantage of its unpredictability. Norton will take on the lead role, adding to his list of film disabilities. He had multiple personalities in Primal Fear (sort of) and Fight Club, a fake mental illness in The Score, and was a raging Nazi in American History X. As Deadline reports it, it was right after he earned his Oscar nomination for American History X that he obtained the novel’s rights for New Line. I have no doubt he’ll make Lionel Essrog one of the more memorable characters of the year whenever this flick gets released.
Before that happens, though, you’ll be able to see Norton roaming the halls of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. He recently wrapped production on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s star-studded Broadway-themed comedy Birdman and is currently lending his vocal talents to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s raunchy animated comedy Sausage Party.
There’s no word on when the project will kick into high gear, but Norton doesn’t appear to have any pressing projects on the horizon, so the sooner the better. For some insight into the novel, check out the audio interview below that Lethem gave for public radio station KCRW’s Bookworm.