RED HOOK SUMMER
DIRECTED BY SPIKE LEE
What leads anybody, let alone a man of God, to the most disparate parts of Brooklyn that even the hipsters and trust-fund babies do not even want to touch? Da Good Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters) is in a less enviable church space with very little patrons and believers in his neighborhood. His biggest test is when his grandson Flik visits him for the first time in 13 years. But what is revealed among these two that in the first two acts felt like obvious generational differences in fact is something quite deeper and troubling.
I saw this film at a special Q&A session with Spike Lee in New York. While the highlight of that session, aside from the grade-A job Spike did in telling off drunk audience members and people who still do not get why he shoots a lot of movies in Brooklyn, was his reasoning for why Mookie was delivering pizzas in Red Hook, his thoughts on religion in the black community were fascinating. He is not a religious person but you can tell the way church scenes are shot with sermons and such euphoric gospel choirs that even he gets caught up in it. Peters is revelatory in a very complicated role playing a man of many contradictions.
I really cannot discuss the plot without revealing a lot but all I can really say that your opinion on the third act plot twist really makes or breaks your opinion on the film. It helped me understand Enoch’s whole relationship to flick obsessed with his iPad and other modern technology in addition to his whole purpose for being in Red Hook. But I can understand how it falls apart for people given how it is not really stated what other characters knew. But that third act is shot with quintessential Spike Lee intense close-up that makes you even think the explosive information given could be acted in with violence by the intensity of it all. For me it is really great work followed by one of the hardest scenes Spike Lee has admitted to ever have filmed. But this is a polarizing film.
For one thing if you hate child actors like me, at best you are going to have to warm up to the young kids who play Flik and Chaz. That said they have their moments, including messing with the recent people who migrated to the more gentrified areas of Brooklyn. The film is also very DIY, shot in 13 days, and at times really seeming like a student film. But I feel like all good directors need that kind of small, minor film in the way Scorsese needed AFTER HOURS before returning to the big budget prestige films. Lee doing the American remake of OLD BOY may have used this film as an exercise but the performances of Peters and the scene-stealing Thomas Jefferson Byrd as the benevolent drunk Deacon Zee cannot be ignored in this passionately told tale that is more than coming of age and generational differences. That and there are just some amazing, and according to Lee purely coincidental, religious imagery. Seek it out.
P.S. If you are a fan of THE WIRE, look out for plenty of cameos and shout-outs to the series.