Red Hook Summer

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Red Hook Summer Movie Poster Image
Complex Spike Lee drama starts hopeful, turns very dark.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 121 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Red Hook Summer is an exceedingly complex movie, as muddled as real life, but one of its strongest themes is that faith -- whether in God, in other people, or in yourself -- can provide forgiveness and understanding.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character, Flik, doesn't have a clear journey over the course of the film, but he makes a couple of small gestures toward the end that suggest that he's learned something about being a good person. Bishop Enoch Rouse is presented as a good person, but viewers learn that he has a dark and horrifying past that's difficult to forgive, even though he's worked very hard to heal himself and atone for his sins.


The movie's most disturbing scene is a flashback of suggested sexual violence committed by a grown man upon a 12 year-old boy (a minor character); nothing is actually shown. In another scene, three street thugs beat up the bishop, with bleeding head wounds. Also many scenes of tense arguing and/or yelling. In one scene, an adult argues with a pre-teen boy and pushes him up against a door frame. A dead rat is shown.


The term "sucking off" is used. Also some innuendo, such as mentions of girls getting pregnant.


Language is fairly sparse until the final stretch, when "s--t" is used more than once, as well as "c--ksucker" and "motherf----r." One secondary character says the "N" word and "goddamn" several times. "Bastard" is heard once. "Butt" and "hell" are used many times.


The main character carries an iPad everywhere, shoots videos on it, and mentions its name more than once. Facebook and Twitter are mentioned several times. Characters wear Nike shoes and clothes, and the logo is seen at least once. Tylenol is mentioned once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secondary character is shown to be a drunk, mixing wine with cola (he calls it "Jesus juice"), and drinking whisky. "Reefer" is mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that director Spike Lee's Brooklyn-set drama Red Hook Summer focuses on a 13-year-old boy, a neighborhood girl the same age, and his grandfather -- a bishop in a local church. As the movie reaches its final stretch, there's a subplot about child molesting; even though nothing is actually shown, it's very intense. Language also increases as the film goes along, moving from a few uses of "s--t" and the "N" word to harsher words like "c--ksucker" and "motherf----r." Other violence includes arguments and shouting and a scene of an adult pushing a boy up against a door frame. Sexual innuendo is mild and infrequent (mostly some talk about pregnant girls), but product placement is strong, with frequent use and mention of an Apple iPad in particular, plus some other products. Overall, Red Hook Summer is a film with complex messages that's clearly intended for more mature viewers.

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What's the story?

Flik Royale (Jules Brown), a 13-year-old with a comfortable life in Atlanta, is dropped off in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook to spend the summer with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters). The bishop sends Flik to church and gives him chores, hoping that the boy will find faith. Flik also develops a hot-and-cold friendship with feisty Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a girl his own age. Flik tries to keep a cool, detached attitude, but everything changes when a dark secret from the bishop's past comes back to haunt him.

Is it any good?

Red Hook Summer is a strange, meandering, complex movie more along the lines of a minor movie like Lee's Crooklyn than one of his masterpieces. Director Spike Lee calls RED HOOK SUMMER the latest chapter in his "Chronicles of Brooklyn" series, and his famous Do the Right Thing character, pizza delivery man Mookie, makes a cameo appearance. There are no clear character arcs and no three-act dramatic structure, but the movie's messiness comes close to the rhythms of real life.

Lee conjures up a very definite mood, using color filters to emphasize yellows and underlining the New York heat. On the soundtrack, raw hymnals mix with the spare piano music of none other than pop star Bruce Hornsby. And the movie's climax comes as a huge shock after the relative gentleness of the first section. But overall it demonstrates that true faith may be the result of suffering (Flik hasn't known suffering and therefore hasn't needed religion) and that no religious experience comes without some wreckage.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Red Hook Summer's violence and suggested sexual violence. How shocking is it? How does it affect your perception of the story or the characters?

  • Is the bishop a role model? Does his past deed overshadow the rest of the good he has tried to do?

  • What does Flik learn over the course of the summer?

  • Does this movie encourage faith and religion, or is it more ambiguous?

Movie details

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