Director Spike Lee returns to Brooklyn for his latest micro-budget film Red Hook Summer. In it Lee weighs in on such heavy-hitter topics like politics, Wall Street, religion, race and the coming-of-age story of a young boy that’s forced to spend his summer with his preaching grandfather in New York. Lee’s steadfast direction mixed with his uncanny ability to write some of the most intriguing and real characters makes Red Hook Summer a must-see.
Flik (Jules Brown) is your typical young teenager living today. He’s obsessed with his iPad 2 and he’d rather spend his days listening to music or eating junk food than saying the Lord’s prayer or helping out in his community. It’s not that Flik is a bad kid, but certain events in his life have led him down a path that might turn him from an innocent young boy into a possibly troubled young adult. He’s at a point in his early life where direction is needed and it comes in the form of his grandfather Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters).
At first Flik is rebellious towards going to church and doing anything his grandfather asks, but as the summer progresses young Flik soon realizes the importance of family and believing in something. Spike Lee packs a lot of material into this two hour drama, with long-winded discussions about religion and faith getting balanced out with quicker chit chat about politics, race and even Wall Street. Lee is a very gifted filmmaker that knows how to dabble in each respective field without spending too much time beating the dead horse.
Red Hook Summer is very much focused on religion, but it’s shot through an impartial lens. It’s never too preachy, despite the actual characters being members of a church, with the outsiders being often looked upon as sinners or bad people. Lee is very careful in how he portrays each set of characters, exploring both their good and bad. It’s this flawed lens that we look through that makes Red Hook Summer such a special film.
Lee’s direction flows so freely, but it never forgets its driving force. He’s able to give the audience a coming-of-age story about a boy spending a summer in Brooklyn, while also dealing with much greater issues effecting the world on a daily basis and the way he does it is very particular. Lee’s use of young and mostly no-name actors helps make the performances stick on a level that feels unscripted and from the heart.
Actor Jules Brown plays young Flik with a lot of misguided hate towards a world he doesn’t fully understand. As the film reaches its ending point the character of Flik comes full circle and Brown progresses the character with a remarkable sense of humor and love. His character might seem stereotypical at the beginning, but the more we get a chance to see Flik interact with his environment the more Jules Brown shows just how much depth is actually present.
Toni Lysaith plays Flik’s friend Chazz and together the two create a charming friendship that is based on uncertainty of the world and striving for a greater life. Lysaith, much like Brown, brings a specific amount of energy to the role that helps give Chazz some backbone. Chazz isn’t just a love interest or a friend to help fill the voids of summer; she’s a crucial piece of the film that helps drive the performances home.
Rounding out the cast is Clarke Peters as Bishop Enoch. This character is perhaps the most fleshed out, if only because Lee is a genius when it comes to building up drama and conflict. Enoch is that preacher that we’ve all seen going down the streets handing out flyers and spreading the good word, but he too is faced with his own demons and imperfections and Peters sets the role on fire with his electrifying sermons and constant commitment to offer advice to those in need.
Red Hook Summer is the definition of soul and love on film. Spike Lee made the film on a shoestring budget, with barely any promoting and yet it still overcomes the barriers of money and mainstream and becomes a moving film. The opening minutes might feel a little slow or disconnecting, but by the 25 minute mark you’ll find yourself completely submerged in the characters and Lee’s ability to tell such a transforming tale. The ending will surely have you talking for days.
Red Hook Summer – 8.5/10