Anti-Semitism, race relations, coming of age, and fathers and sons: in Baltimore from fall, 1954, to fall, 1955. Racial integration comes to the high school, TV is killing burlesque, and ...
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Anti-Semitism, race relations, coming of age, and fathers and sons: in Baltimore from fall, 1954, to fall, 1955. Racial integration comes to the high school, TV is killing burlesque, and rock and roll is pushing the Four Lads off the Hit Parade. Ben, a high school senior, and his older brother Van are exploring "the other": in Ben's case, it's friendship with Sylvia, a Black student; with Van, it's a party in the WASP part of town and falling for a debutante, Dubbie. Sylvia gives Ben tickets to a James Brown concert; Dubbie invites Van to a motel: new worlds open. Meanwhile, their dad Nate, who runs a numbers game, loses big to a small-time pusher, Little Melvin; a partnership ensues. Written by
In the scene where they are teeing off at the 'golf course', they are actually standing on the lawn in front of the Mansion House in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park. The Mansion House is the current day administrative offices for the Baltimore Zoo. There is no real golf course in Druid Hill Park. See more »
Movie was set in 1954 yet there is a 1957 Buick parked outside the synagogue. See more »
Many films in the later part of 1999 came on like gangbusters with huge marketing and advertising campaigns and much hype; some before they even appeared in theaters. Some did not live up to these expectations (Man on the Moon, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Being John Malkovich), others did (American Beauty, The Insider). One particular film though entered very quietly with little fanfare and turned out to be a gem and is maintaining its stay at theaters along with the big guns. That film is the wonderful, intelligent and funny "Liberty Heights", Barry Levinson's fourth in his Baltimore series (Diner, Tin Men, Avalon). Like those films Levinson relies on great dialogue, real characters and good actors to bring it all to life (again its amazing how that works).
"Liberty Heights" explores the issues of race, class and religion mainly through the eyes and experiences of two Jewish brothers, college student Van Kurtzman (Adrien Brody) and his younger brother, Ben (Ben Foster) during 1954. They live in the predominately Jewish community of Forest Park with their parents (Mantegna and Neuwirth) along with their grandmother. Their father owns a burlesque house and runs the local numbers business. They are a relatively normal loving middle class family. But both brothers are beginning to explore the outside world of their Jewish circle and the changes that are taking place within the world. While eldest brother Van is breaking class barriers by pursing a rich upper class socialite, Ben is knocking down the color barrier by starting a relationship with a pretty black classmate. Eventually all their worlds collide to varying degrees and both boys learn and grow along the way. This is a wonderful heartfelt picture with none of the sentimentality that marred "The Green Mile". It is honest with its emotions and does not force them or any message onto the audience. "Liberty Heights" is a true delight and a must see for those who are pursuing all those big guns in the theaters now.
Levinson has created such a rich and wonderful universe that is so real and has chosen a near perfect cast to pull it off. The always-reliable Joe Mantegna as Nate gives a good, solid performance as the patriarch of the Kurtzman family. He is a strong and loving figure for his family and Mantegna does a good job of it. The very talented Neuwirth also does fine work and Richard Kline who was awful as Jack's buddy in the TV show "Three's Company" does an outstanding job as Nat's business partner Charlie, but this picture belongs to the brothers (Brody and especially the young Foster). Brody who has proven himself to be an up-and-coming actor (The Thin Red Line, Summer of Sam) should have a long shelf life compared to some of his flash in the pan contemporaries. His performance shows a very focused and compelling character. But the acting of Ben Foster is pure joy and he carries the picture and lights up the screen every time he appears with his very natural and charismatic performance. This is one talented actor who I hope to see more of in the future. Although both Brody and Foster do not have the so called "movie star good looks" they are in a league of their own as far as talent is concerned. We need less pretty faces that can't act and more of their kind.
Although "Liberty Heights" does not have any of the hype of the other pictures and the acting and directing do not have Oscar written all over them, it is still a great picture that stands tall and can go head to head with all the major contenders out there. Do yourself a favor and check out this wonderful picture, you will not be disappointed. Highly Recommended.
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