NO ONE CAN ACCUSE Spike Lee of lacking ambition. For his new film, Red Hook Summer, the 55-year-old director has gone independent, shot on digital, and gathered a bevy of controversial topics guaranteed to spark outrage and debate. Red Hook Summer is his most incendiary and fascinating movie since the 1990s, blending Do the Right Thing with Crooklyn by relating difficult subject matter through the experience of a child.
Newcomer Jules Brown stars as Flik Royale, a naïve adolescent shuttled from Atlanta to Brooklyn to spend the summer with his grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (The Wire's Clarke Peters). The dynamic between the two illustrates a classic generation gap, with Lee making a larger point that the generation in between has gone missing: With so many lost to drugs and crime, elderly African Americans are forced to raise the youngest in their community, despite differing views regarding technology, religion, and race. Peters makes for a commanding authority figure, and his faith is portrayed with honesty and respect. It's Red Hook Summer's most appealing quality. Lee gives all points of view equal weight, using Enoch's apartment building as a nexus where gangbangers, grandmothers, and even Mookie the Pizza Man all converge.
Leveling the playing field is essential to making Red Hook Summer work. It's the only way Lee could ever hope to pull off the third-act surprise that turns this movie on its ear, upending everything that came prior. How you react to this revelation will dictate what you ultimately think of Red Hook Summer. You might not buy what Lee's peddling, and the film certainly has its clunky moments, but you're still likely to have your consciousness raised along with those skeptical eyebrows.