Liberty Heights (1999) is the fourth installment of director Barry Levinson
film series. Much like the other movies (that are only similar in theme, and not story line) Levinson examines not only his own past, but also that of friends and what he calls "the mythology
of Baltimore". (The previous movies in the series were Diner
, Tin Men
The story revolves around a Jewish family living in 1954 Baltimore that is being influenced for the first time by other cultures. Before the fifties and the wide use of automobile, people of certain classes and ethnic origins lived in neighborhoods together and had little contact with those different than them.
The first and most prominent story is a tale of interracial love. One of the brothers in the film (Ben) falls in love with the only black girl in his class (while she was reciting the Psalm 23 of all things). Neither the girl's parents nor the boy's like the idea in the least. The story highlights how cultures can learn from each other - and be ignorant just as equally. And that's what I love about anything Levinson works on. The black characters are just as strong as any other character, but most importantly the black characters aren't there only to teach white America a lesson in good behavior. The black characters are as complicated as anyone else.
The second story is about love between the classes. The older brother (Van) falls in love with an upper class protestant girl who attends Washington and Lee. Their relationship is complicated, for many reasons that I don't want to go into here (for fear of giving something away), but let me say that it isn't a typical rich spitting on the poor and the poor overcoming it story.
The final story (and the weakest in my opinion) is about the boy's father and how racial lines were being crossed in his workplace, that is, the criminal underworld.
The film is very good, with a very rich storyline. It creates the feeling of being in a moment with Levinson, of experiencing the particulars of Americana, and of being innocent, in times that were anything but.
Main Cast List from imdb.com:
Adrien Brody.... Van Kurtzman
Ben Foster.... Ben Kurtzman
Orlando Jones.... Little Melvin
Bebe Neuwirth.... Ada Kurtzman
Joe Mantegna.... Nate Kurtzman
Rebekah Johnson.... Sylvia
David Krumholtz.... Yussel
Richard Kline (I).... Charlie
Vincent Guastaferro.... Pete
Justin Chambers.... Trey
Carolyn Murphy.... Dubbie