Canal Street

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Canal Street Movie Poster Image
Flawed melodrama has teen partying, mild violence.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 89 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

White teen and black teen start out as enemies, then become friends, continuing a dialogue about race relations. Film argues that faith is sufficient as a defense in a murder trial; whether that's positive or negative will depend on viewers' position on the issue.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many successful black professional characters, including a district attorney running for mayor. Perhaps wisest people in film are owner of local barber shop and a pastor. Despite murder-trial theme and occasional prison setting, there aren't any hard-core criminals in the film.


A dead (murdered) teen is repeatedly shown lying in his own blood. Two guns are briefly brandished -- one as a joke, one before a murder. Mild police brutality in a suspect-questioning scene. Cheap shot during a basketball game.


Teens kiss. Brief discussion of a teen couple's unwanted pregnancy.


Certain vehicles are held up as status symbols, including BMWs and a luxury SUV.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at a party, teens smoke weed, an adult drinks whiskey at a bar. One teen is kept from driving drunk by his friend.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Canal Street is a drama about a black Chicago teen who's accused of a white classmate's murder. Kholi (Bryshere Y. Gray) relies on his lawyer father to clear his name, while an ambitious DA pushes for his conviction. The story is told as much through talk-radio debates (celebrities like Erich "Mancow" Muller and Charlamagne Tha God play themselves) as through screen action. Expect to see teens kissing and drinking and smoking pot. While not much violence is shown on-screen, viewers will repeatedly see a murdered teen lying in his own blood, and two guns are briefly brandished -- one as a joke and one before a murder. There's also mild police brutality in a suspect-questioning scene.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMireah12 July 25, 2019
Adult Written byTerriea January 22, 2019

Great movie, powerful message.

This is a must watch movie. An important message that is relevant for challenges we all face in the world. A beautifully balanced faith based theme. Go watch as... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In CANAL STREET, black Chicago teen Kholi (Bryshere Y. Gray) is tried for the murder of white classmate Brian (Kevin Quinn), despite a lack of evidence. Kholi relies on his lawyer father, Jackie (Mykelti Williamson), to clear his name, while ambitious District Attorney Canton (Mekhi Phifer) pushes for his conviction. The story is told as much through talk-radio debates (celebrities like Erich "Mancow" Muller and Charlamagne Tha God play themselves) as through screen action. And the cast includes many veterans in small roles, including Michael Beach, Lance Reddick, Jon Seda, Will Yun Lee, Harry Lennix, Nora Dunn, and more.

Is it any good?

This drama seems well-intentioned, avoiding ugly incidents and language as it does, but it's too muddled to effectively make whatever its point may be. There are too many logic gaps in Canal Street to let slide. Perhaps the police are dirty and intentionally not investigating (did they really not canvas the neighborhood after this high-profile shooting?). But despite considerable resources, there are no forensic experts present, no weapon found, no explanation of the boy's conduct that would seem contrary to a murderer's. And viewers aren't given crucial details of the incident until the inevitable "big reveal" moment. Why is that moment "inevitable"? Because, despite clearly biased police work and extremely unrealistic courtroom dirty tricks, Jackie asserts during cross-examination that if Kholi is "a God-loving man," he'll be cleared.

Any hope for suspense -- or at least sustained tension -- is swamped by the constant buzz of talk-radio segments. As actual radio personalities debate back and forth without a shred of proof, no real reporting is shown. It's all noise. The intrusions of music and proselytizing further hamstring any dramatic momentum. That said, a few notable moments by the likes of Beach and the film's overall goodwill save it from being impossible to watch. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the subject matter of Canal Street. Is it timely? Do you think it's intended to tie in with current events? How does it compare to other thematically similar movies?

  • Did it bother you that viewers weren't given basic details of the incident until the movie was well along? Why or why not?

  • Why do you think the real-life talking heads/radio pundits got so much screen time here? Do you think the filmmakers were making a statement by putting them front-and-center? When following a news story, do you listen more to people like them or to reporters? Do you know the difference? Does the film?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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