If you think Ben Affleck's love affair with Boston is a bit obsessive, you clearly haven't heard of Spike Lee. The director's new film Red Hook Summer continues his stories called The Chronicles of Brooklyn, following on from films such as She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crookyln, Clockers and He Got Game which are all set in his beloved home town.
Red Hook Summer follows a young boy named Flik, as he's uprooted from his comfortable middle class neighbourhood in Atlanta, and forced by his mother to spend the summer with Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters), his grandfather whom he has never met before, in gritty Red Hook, Brooklyn. The bishop is head of a church called Lil' Piece of Heaven and as you would imagine, the preacher takes the church seriously and attempts to impart the wisdom of the word upon young Flik. However, the youngster is more interesting in filming dead rats on his ever present iPad then learning about salvation, which ultimately causes some friction between the boy and his granddad.
Red Hook Summer is essentially a coming of age drama that not only focuses on a young boy's journey, but in true Spike Lee tradition takes a swipe at mainstream America, particularly focusing on issues facing the black community. Clarke Peters (The Wire) is absolutely tremendous as bishop Enoch and delivers a sparkling performance laced with brilliant sermons remonstrating about education, welfare of young children, healthcare and more. Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Set if Off) also delivers a superb and witty performance as alcoholic Deacon Zee who is constantly watching share prices and berating people for not investing in Apple stocks when they were just a few pence back in the day. Another notably performance is from Nate Parker (Red Tails) who puts in a powerful performance as a troubled local drug dealer.
Spike Lee has always been a very honest filmmaker and his art of storytelling never seems to be comprised. From the outset Red Hook Summer has a feeling of realism. This could be due to the fact that Lee auditioned kids from the local school, and plucked his protagonist Flik, played wonderfully by newcomer Jules Brown from obscurity to star in a film about his own neighbourhood. Also a large portion of the film is set in a Lil' Piece of Heaven Church, which was filmed in co-writer James McBride's small, local family church. All of these factors lend to allowing the audience to be fully transported to this intriguing Brooklyn neighbourhood. You can't help but to emotionally engage with the main characters in Red Hook, as you follow their own personal journeys and listen to their stories, and this is where Spike Lee excels. The director has the ability to make films that are completely steeped in reality.
Red Hook Summer's biggest downfalls could be attributed to the screenplay itself. While visually this film is fantastic and Lee continues to delight with his unique montages and camera shots, the script itself feels a bit rushed. As with most Spike Lee films, it's a slow burner and eases into the narrative and builds a picture of the environment, situation and characters. However there were too many unanswered questions that could have quite easily been incorporated into the story, which gives a rushed ending to the film. After investing so much time and energy into the characters, it seems a shame that you walk away with so many loose ends.
Never one to dodge hard-hitting subjects, Lee makes a bold decision with Red Hook Summer and takes the audience down an unexpected turn which is a testament to what a fearless director he has always been, and clearly still is. Lee may have received some criticism for taking this particular route; however he is simply demonstrating what he has always done throughout his career, which is the ability to be honest about the world that we are currently living in. Lee never attempts to gloss over reality or take a look at situations through rose-tinted glasses; don't expect to find a typical Hollywood ending here, just stark realism.
Whilst Red Hook Summer has its flaws, it's a superb, poignant tribute to Spike Lee's beloved Brooklyn. It's a story about coming of age, faith and the struggles young black American's are facing growing up in the current climate. It's not all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, but Red Hook Summer is a great watch and reminder as to why Spike Lee is still considered a fantastic storyteller.