Spike Lee’s eighteenth feature (not counting his numerous documentaries) marks a return to his roots in both setting and execution. He returns to local Brooklyn locations for the first time in fourteen years, making this the sixth entry in his unofficial ‘Chronicles of Brooklyn’ series, which includes the now classic ‘Do the Right Thing’. He also shot this in a very short time, with a very low budget, in a reportedly ‘guerrilla’ style similar to his debut, ‘She’s Gotta Have it’ in 1986, though now he’s working in the digital format.
Flik is a young boy from a middle-class family in Atlanta, who’s sent to spend his school summer holiday with his grandfather Enoch (The Wire’s Clarke Peters) in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Enoch is a charismatic preacher at a local church – of the ‘happy clappy’ rather than the ‘fire and brimstone’ kind, who finds some way to work God, Jesus or Satan into virtually everything he says. He sets about introducing Flik to the local church folk and converting him to his beliefs, but Flik has his own reasons for doubting God.
Apparently it debuted at Sundance in a longer version, it’s surely to its benefit that it’s been edited down a little as after the introductions are made, ‘Red Hook’ meanders a quite a bit, with a good deal of time dedicated to Enoch’s church sermons. In a way, this is representative of the school holiday experience but may leave audiences wondering if it’s actually going anywhere or just allowing us to hang around with its cast.
Then, around two-thirds of the way through, Spike hits us abruptly with a curveball plot point that is something we’ve seen in stories before, yet totally unexpected in the film’s environment, affecting everything that follows.
Peters gets a chance to shine in a meaty central role but ‘Red Hook Summer’ really struggles with its child performers, something perhaps added to by the hasty filming schedule. Flik and his potential girlfriend Chazz are both well written, and have some cute moments of courting, but the young performers aren’t able to bring them to life convincingly here.
While ‘Red Hook Summer’ is peppered throughout with touches of modern technology – Flik, an aspiring documentary maker, films everything on his iPad 2 (he carries this around with him oblivious to the fact that he may be attracting the attention of would-be thieves), it mostly feels like something Spike Lee could have made 20-odd years ago. And as ever, he isn’t interested in giving us easy answers or solutions, clear cut good guys or bad guys, just representations of life.