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Robert Moses Inspires 'Motherless Brooklyn'

A new movie starring Edward Norton, based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Essrog, gives a central role to a Robert Moses doppelgänger, as portrayed by Alec Baldwin.
October 23, 2019, 10am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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C.M. Stieglitz

León Krauze reviews Motherless Brooklyn as a "cautionary tale of power left unchecked," thanks to a a key role in the story being played by Robert Moses, "the visionary yet ruthless 'master builder' who shaped modern New York City in the first half of the 20th century. 

Much of the review is actually about Robert Caro's approach to documenting the life of Robert Moses, in the canonical planning book The Power Broker, including numerous details from Caro's recent memoir, Working, which looks back on his career as one of the world's most famous biographers.

Krauze explains how Moses left his mark on Motherless Brooklyn:

For his adaptation of Lethem’s novel, Norton builds on Caro’s examination of power by changing the setting from contemporary New York back to the 1950s, and by adding a crucial character to the plot: Moses Randolph, a Robert Moses doppelgänger portrayed with narcissistic glee by Alec Baldwin. Norton’s version of Moses lacks the persuasive charm that Caro found so enthralling in the original. Instead, Baldwin plays him as corrupt, predatory, and heartless, a New York power broker who stops at nothing to keep the steamroller’s wheels churning. 

Krauze's verdict on the film, in the end, also ties the relevance of history to the political environment of the present.

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Published on Monday, October 21, 2019 in Slate
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