In Theaters Now: Red Hook Summer

  • 08/30/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Starring: Jules Brown, Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Toni Lysaith

Red Hook Summer is a coming of age story centered on 12 year old Flik Royale, played by Jules Brown, who spends the summer in the care of his grandfather, Bishop Enoch, played by Clarke Peters, the pastor of a small black baptist church in the town of Red Hook, New York. Flik and Enoch are diametrically opposed. Tethered to the net via an iPad, Flik is all tech, while tethered to the teachings of the bible, Enoch is all tradition. Disharmony should lead to resolution, and in most other stories that would follow. But this is a Spike Lee Joint and disharmony is Lee’s stock-in-trade.

For half a century or more, black nationalists have criticized the black church for retarding the process of black liberation, yet the success of the civil rights movement was based on the power of the pulpit and the power of religion being brought to bear in the secular sphere. Unsurprisingly, Lee’s take on this paradox lacks much nuance. At the film’s climax, the congregation finds out that they have misplaced their faith. Throughout the film, Lee taunts the congregants through the blue eyes of his white Jesus painting, as if to say, after everything you have collectively suffered, you must be crazy to believe in God’s love. More nuanced is Lee’s painful admission that little else holds embattled black America together.

It’s hard to tell if Lee’s choices reflect the confusion the director wants to impart upon the audience or if he’s simply unwilling to delegate authority to solid artistic partners. The cinematography is haphazard and inconsistent as was the art design. There’s a way to marry the look of cinema verite with tradition and Lee’s done it in several movies. Here, it just looks really sloppy and distracting.

Many of the actors in this film have talent despite their director’s attempt to make them seem like caricatures. It seems like Lee wanted to film a moving play, but forgot that dynamic voices at the edge of a stage are not the same as behind the curtain. Clarke Peters and Heather Alicia Simms share the film’s one slow and intimate moment though it is mostly ground up in the gears of Lee’s camera.

This is not a bad film, but it is a bad Spike Lee film. Generally edgy and unpredictable, here Lee seems exasperated and unwilling to pay attention to detail. The last two minutes seemed like a generic and sentimental slide show at the end of summer camp. With an unsteady quill and an inability to hold together a stable vision, Spike Lee may have lost his way. Maybe it’s time to go to church?

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