Brooklyn Castle

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Brooklyn Castle Movie Poster Image
Kids discover life on and off chess board in moving docu.
  • PG
  • 2012
  • 101 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Hard work will be rewarded, if the students of New York's IS318 are any example. The school is largely lower income, and many of the students are the children of immigrants, but by devoting countless hours to the study of chess, they manage to excel, taking home many national titles and clearly demonstrating that they've earned their rewards -- in this case, admission to some of the most prestigious of New York's public high schools and even college scholarships.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The featured students are all from lower-income, minority families and achieve greatness through the game of chess. Through hard work, focus, discipline, and then more hard work, they manage to win a string of national titles. It's about as pure an example of a meritocracy as possible, showing that anyone can get ahead if they put their mind to it.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

One junior high school student says "bulls--t," once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brooklyn Castle is a documentary that follows the chess team of a public New York middle school, a largely lower-income squad who've devoted themselves to studying the game and have racked up a string of national titles. It's an uplifting tale with the strongly positive message that hard work will be rewarded. There's no smoking, drinking, or sex -- just chess and more chess (and very infrequent swearing, a la "bulls--t," from kids who are sometimes frustrated by the results of a tough match).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byNYDad November 14, 2012

Uplifting...and accurate!

Excellent documentary! Having attended many chess tournaments, including some at IS 318, I can verify the legitimacy of this "story". It is truly u... Continue reading

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What's the story?

BROOKLYN CASTLE is an uplifting documentary that follows the lauded chess team of New York's Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, a largely lower-income, mostly minority group that overcomes every barrier and vaults every hurdle to become national champions. These kids are talented beyond belief at this notoriously difficult game, and their accomplishments are even more impressive when you realize that they all come from very modest circumstances, including many whose parents immigrated to the United States. Through sheer hard work and determination, the kids achieve greatness, and it's satisfying to watch them succeed.

Is it any good?

By bringing the financial crash to this micro level, it's never been clearer exactly how much it cost, and after watching the chess team rack up victories, we see not everything was lost. Brooklyn Castle was filmed over the course of more than one school year, and the 2008 financial crisis looms large over the entire venture. Soon after the crash, the school learns that its budget has been slashed, and they may have to cancel some after-school programs -- including the chess team. Watching Ms. Vicary, the chess teacher, and Mr. Galvin, the coach/assistant principal, try to decide which tournaments the team must skip is heartbreaking.

That's why it's so satisfying to watch the team arrange a letter-writing campaign to school officials demanding their funding back and organize fundraisers to cover their tournament travel expenses. It's clear that chess isn't just a game; for these students, it can also open doors. Like Rochelle Ballantyne, who's hoping to become the first African-American female chess master and is also in the running for a full college scholarship. Or Pobo Efekoro, the student body president who spends his afternoons as custodian at the daycare center run by his widowed mom, an immigrant from Africa.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages. What does it say about competition and teamwork? How do you cope with losing even when you try your best? What's the value of working together toward a common goal?

  • Are you surprised, impressed, amazed (or all of the above) that a bunch of middle-schoolers could achieve such high rankings in chess?

  • Is this movie only about chess? Or is there more going on here? Why does it spend so much time talking about the 2008 financial crisis? How does that relate to these kids?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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