STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN (director/writer: Matty Rich; cinematographer: John Rosnell; editor: Jack Haigis; cast: George T. Odom (Ray Brown), Ann D. Sanders (Frankie Brown), Matty Rich (Larry), Larry Gilliard Jr. (Dennis Brown), Barbara Sanon (Carolyn Brown), Reana E. Drummond (Shirley), Mark Malone (Kevin); Runtime: 83; Samuel Goldwyn Co.; 1991)
“A gritty realistic look at life in the black ghetto.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A gritty realistic look at life in the black ghetto. It was shot by 19-year-old Matty Rich, who never went to film school. He financed the film on his own and took about 2 years, starting at age 17 and filming in his neighborhood. He brings his heartfelt experiences growing up in the Red Hook housing projects of Brooklyn. The intense film is an honest effort to look into the psyches of those living there. It is only flawed by the obviousness of the situation, yet despite that there is a power in the real people depicted. There was no new ground broken, but it did hit a nerve as to what life in a housing project looks like.
It follows for a few days the adventures of a high school student, Dennis Brown (Gilliard Jr.), who lives in the project with his teenage sister Carolyn (Sanon) and his working mother Frankie (Sanders) and gas station attendant father Ray (Odom).
The powerful opening scene sets the stage for its tragic tale. Dennis and Carolyn share the same sleeping room and are awakened by their drunken father beating his wife for no reason, and who in his anger breaks many household objects throwing them around the room. The father goes on a drunken rant of how the white man ruined him. He confronts the cowering Dennis by stating, “Do you know what it is to be black?”
Dennis’ dream is to get out of the ghetto anyway he could, and to do that he feels pressured to get some fast money. He talks with his two friends, who aimlessly loaf around the projects, Kevin (Malone) and Larry Love (Rich-the director), and suggests they pull a robbery of a local drug lord by getting a gun and a car. Larry suggests they get jobs in his uncle’s gas station, which is sneered at by the angry Dennis.
Shirley (Drummond) is Dennis’s sweet girlfriend, who works as a waitress and suggests that Dennis should use his smarts to go to college. But he says that he doesn’t have four or five years to spend in college. Looking out at the Manhattan skyline, he tells her those rich corporation people got there by breaking the rules. She tells him that she won’t have anything to do with him if he goes about getting his dream the wrong way.
Dennis feels trapped by his circumstances and can’t respond in the right way to solve his problem. His mother accepts the beatings as part of life, as the women all appear to be martyrs and saints. The men are confused and filled with anger and violence, wanting the American Dream but distorting it by saying it can only be gotten by illegal means. There seemed to be little choice for the troubled teens, as they are stymied by living in poverty and in dysfunctional homes. They narrow the choices down to either being criminals and possibly getting rich, or of being stuck in the ghetto the rest of their lives as working stiffs.
The film works because it had an honest energy, though when it tries to say something meaningful it feels like so much jibe. The triteness and predictability of the story prevents the film from traveling too far from the reality of the housing projects the filmmaker knows. It’s a cautionary inner-city film that should well serve the youthful urban audience that will be most attracted to its story and should relate to them better than it would to a wide audience.
REVIEWED ON 8/13/2001 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ