Liberty Heights (1999) - Rotten Tomatoes

Liberty Heights (1999)



Critic Consensus: A moving film with moments of humor, Liberty Heights succeeds in capturing the feel of the '50s with great performances and sensitive direction.

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Movie Info

It is Baltimore in 1954 and everything is changing. In this year, school desegregation is happening for the first time, bringing black and white children from different neighborhoods into the same classrooms. In this year, the dawning of rock'n'roll is giving teenagers their first slice of a musical world that will become uniquely their own. In this year, the influx of automobiles becomes a powerful force in America, allowing people the mobility and privacy to travel at will--to see things right in their own hometown that were previously unknown to them. And in this year, the Kurtzman family developed a newly heightened understanding of what it means to be Jewish in a rapidly growing world in this story which examines the changing times of the mid-1950s and issues of race, class and religious distinction as seen through the eyes of a particular American family.more
Rating: R (for crude language and sex-related material)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Barry Levinson
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 20, 2000
Warner Bros. Pictures - Official Site


Adrien Brody
as Van Kurtzman
Ben Foster
as Ben Kurtzman
Orlando Jones
as Little Melvin
Bebe Neuwirth
as Ada Kurtzman
Joe Mantegna
as Nate Kurtzman
James Pickens Jr.
as Sylvia's Father
Evan Neumann
as Sheldon
Evan Neuman
as Sheldon
Carlton J. Smith
as James Brown
Susan Duvall
as Teacher No. 2
Ellyn O'Connell
as Anne Whittier
Doug Roberts
as Assistant DA
Al Brown
as Bailiff
Kenny Raskin
as Burlesque Comic
Kimberlee Suerth
as Buxom Nurse
Mary Lynn Ray
as Woman in Court No. 1
Marty Lodge
as Defense Attorney
Gideon Jacobs
as Ben (age 8)
Shelley Stokes
as Box Office Attendant
Patsy Grady Abrams
as Woman in Court No. 2
Katie Finneran
as Mrs. Johnson
Sekiya Billman
as Halloween Stripper
Judith Knight Young
as Teacher No. 1
Stephen Williams
as Wilbert Mosely
Ty Robbins
as Sylvia's Mother
Emily Chamberlain
as Ben's Teacher
Paul Majors
as Party Fight Guy
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Liberty Heights

Critic Reviews for Liberty Heights

All Critics (65) | Top Critics (18)

Offers a deeper immersion in that old '50s feeling than any other Hollywood film in recent memory.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
New York Times
Top Critic

A grand slam!

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Top Critic

A pleasant and worthy addition to a strong series of films.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Top Critic

Delivers the emotional goods.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic

If more people followed Barry Levinson's example and made art after taking issue with something I've written, Hollywood and my mailbox would both benefit.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Only the dourest dyspeptics will fail to enjoy it.

January 1, 2000
USA Today
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Liberty Heights

Ada Kurtzman: No, there the other kind.

Set in 1954 Baltimore, this is a coming of age story involving two Jewish boys, one in high school, one in college, both going after girls and dealing with the changing in times and issues of race, class, and religion.

Ben Foster is the younger of the two, he plays Ben Kurtzman. His story revolves around his attraction to a fellow black girl in his class. The two hit it off, but there are various obstacles in the way of them hanging out together.

Adrien Brody is the older brother, Van. He is basically the simplest character in the movie. All he wants to do is find a girl he met one night at a party, although this does provide the setup for a number of entertaining scenes involving he and his friends hanging in the "non-jewish" neighborhoods.

You also have their parents played by Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna. This plot is the least entertaining, mainly cause it drags in another character. Mantegna runs a burlesque house and an illegal numbers operation. He gets into some trouble when a lottery game they have going needs to pay off much more than they can. This part leads to a character played by Orlando Jones that really doesn't help the movie much, besides give way to some story developments.

Besides this character, the movie works very well. Foster is very good, as he is basically the main protagonist. Mantegna is just a cool guy in general, so he works. The chemistry between the friends is all very good.

Director Barry Levinson, who has made a number of comedy-dramas, knows how to keep things pretty balanced and entertaining. He also gets a number of 50s elements present and has some hints of satire.

The issues involving jews, blacks, and the rich white crowd are handled well enough, but this isn't a film about providing deep answers to these things or anything like that. It just serves as a setting.

The film takes that setting, and uses it to make a fine coming of age story.

Ben Kurtzman: In the event of a bombing, do you think this book will save my life?...First it was the Atom bomb, how its the hydrogen hydrogen is getting through this book.

Aaron Neuwirth

Super Reviewer

Life for Jews and blacks in 1950's America. That sentence pretty much sums up the film. There's no plot, instead it's a character-lead film but sadly the characters are so cliched that the film ends up being supremely mediocre. Brody is good but has nothing to do, it's Foster who has the most interesting storyline - it's just a shame it's Romeo + Juliet all over again. This film really could have done with some darkness or a threat (there's a kidnapping but the tone is way too light) to give it some grit and substance.

Marcus Woolcott

Super Reviewer

A good movie!

Leo L

Super Reviewer

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