Liberty Heights Reviews
The real standout here is Ben Foster, whose debut is stunning in its charming naivete; Foster plays Ben, the youngest of two sons whose father's business dealings may be shadier than meets the eye. There is a genuineness to the film that makes the characters sympathetic even from their various points on the era's social hierarchy. The older brother, Van (Adrien Brody, who is also very good here), falls for a blonde haired, blue eyed, rich girl, but neither she nor her on-again, off-again boyfriend are played as simple caricatures or villains. The only real weak spot in the film is Orlando Jones' character, Little Melvin, a gangster whose only purpose among an ensemble of complex characters is to move the plot forward. More than that, his performance is comic and over-the-top, out of step with the tone the other actors are playing at. Levinson also does a fine job of recreating the era; the costumes, cars, and music are a real joy.
Ultimately, the film is less about race and making comments on race than it is about exploring how discovering and creating one's place in the world is an essential component of growing up. I particularly enjoy the ending of the film, a light touch without being saccharine, and funny without being cynical. This is a film that plays nicely with something like Stand By Me.