Liberty Heights Movie Review

Liberty Heights is a coming of age story, a comedic drama about two brothers growing up Jewish in Baltimore in the mid-1950's. Against the tumultuous backdrop of McCarthyism and racial integration, Van (Adrien Brody) and Ben (Ben Foster) Kurzman, together with their parents, Nate (Joe Mantegna) and Ada (Bebe Neuwirth) face the daily trials of social, religious and racial discrimination.

Those familiar with Barry Levinson's other works, such as Diner and Tin Men, may find Liberty Heights disappointing. This picture strives to project a social consciousness but falls tragically short of the mark set in 1990 by Levinson's Academy Award-nominated Avalon. The powerful subject matter Liberty Heights attempts to address is never fully pursued, quickly falling away behind a glut of gimmicky coming-of-age scenes lacking both in sincerity and originality. At times the characters are so stereotypical, they border on offensive.

The real weakness of this picture is the dialogue, which is so lacking in subtlety as to leave nothing for the audience to wonder at. Even when the characters do find a finer point to talk about, they just can't resist beating it over the head with a mallet. Most of the time, though, they aren't given this chance. The younger brother's friend Sheldon (Evan Neumann), for instance, has few lines that aren't related to genitalia and fewer still that suggest there may be a human being behind those words.

Fortunately for audiences, the cast of Liberty Heights delivers a powerful performance that brings life and compassion to these otherwise stock characters. Joe Mantegna is surprisingly believable as well-meaning racketeer Nate Kurzman, imbuing the role with sensitivity and charm. Adrien Brody and Ben Foster are charismatic and compelling as the two brothers, and Bebe Neuwirth's performance lends a refreshing vulnerability to the family. But the real gem here is Rebekah Johnson, making her feature film debut as Sylvia. Together with James Pickens Jr., who plays Sylvia's father, she creates what may be the film's most memorable scene as Ben hides out in the bedroom closet.

There are a lot of funny scenes in Liberty Heights and at times the drama is successful, but overall this movie just doesn't live up to its aims. If you're looking for a cute coming of age story, you may enjoy Liberty Heights. But if what you want is a compelling social drama, you may do well to look elsewhere. I'm giving this one three stars.

It's not polite to point.

Comments

Liberty Heights Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 1999

Advertisement

More Adrien Brody

Adrien Brody Is Magic Man, Harry Houdini, In New Series

David Copperfield baffles audiences with his illusions and David Blaine impresses with endurance acts and close-up magical mysteries but it was Harry Houdini that first...

Mini-Series 'Houdini', Starring Adrien Brody, Set To Premiere Monday

Adrien Brody is to star as Harry Houdini in an upcoming TV miniseries about the legendary illusionist and escape artist. The two part miniseries 'Houdini'...

'Third Person': Check Out The Trailer For Paul Haggis' "Russian Doll" Drama

The release of Paul Haggis' unique new drama, Third Person, is looming and fans can finally check out the trailer for the movie that had...

Third Person Trailer

Love is never uncomplicated and when a third person gets involved, it can make things even more difficult. Michael is an award-winning novelist who has...

Advertisement

'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Is An Instant Hit With Critics, In Praise Of Wes Anderson's Delightful New Movie [Trailer + Pictures]

The Grand Budapest Hotel is preparing to throw its doors open to the world, having premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. Director...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Movie Review

Wes Anderson's entertaining filmmaking style clicks beautifully into focus for this comical adventure. Films like The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom are packed with amazing...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer

The cast and crew of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' discuss the story, the main characters' relationship and the duties of the concierge in the latest...

Adrien Brody Praises Director Wes Anderson At 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Premiere

Adrien Brody gushes about 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' director Wes Anderson in a red carpet interview at the movie's premiere. Adrien plays the villainous Dmitri...

Advertisement