Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 6/22/00
1999 (2000) - Warner Bros.
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
128 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL
dual-layered (layer switch at 1:05:59 in chapter 22), Snapper case
packaging, film-themed menu screens, theatrical trailer (Liberty
Heights & Diner),
interviews with cast and director Barry Levinson, on-set footage,
deleted scene with introduction by Barry Levinson, isolated
music-only track, scene access (41 chapters), languages: English (DD
5.1), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned
young once, but you remember forever."
The 1950s were more than just the middle of the century. They
represented a hinge on which 20th Century history would turn. With
World War II over, the rise of the automobile led to the rise of
suburbia and a breakdown in the closed communities of before. Brown
vs. Board of Education opened up the floodgates of integration, and
the threat of communism began to mix with previous prejudices to
form a potent cocktail.
All of this provides the setting for Barry Levinson's
Liberty Heights, the fourth in
his "Baltimore series." Set in the city of (you guessed
it) Baltimore in 1954, this film unfolds through the eyes of a
Jewish family, the Kurtzmans. The father, Nate (Joe Mantegna), is a
number-running strip club owner. All of this is strictly illegal,
but Nate is an honest man, and in that contradiction we find an
endearing story. The eldest son (Adrien Brody) falls for a beautiful
gentile. The youngest son, Ben (Ben Foster) is smitten with Sylvia
(Rebekah Johnson), a young black girl recently integrated into his
school. All three stories run their courses, occasionally finding
each other, but usually sticking to themselves. The charm, and
uniting thread behind these tales, is the shared experience of being
in a group in a world fearfully breaking down the walls that have
long kept groups separate.
At the core, this story isn't really about Baltimore or the 1950s.
It's not even about being Jewish. It reflects a time, in a very
personal way, when scary steps were being taken and the social
dividing lines were becoming harder to see. A particularly comical
scene has young Ben ready to go out for Halloween - dressed as
Hitler. His father, who is none too pleased, simply can't believe
it. "These kids have no sense of history," he comments.
The times, they were a changin'.
Unfortunately, all is not perfect. While the story is endearing,
with its honest portrayal of a time before sex, drugs and rock 'n'
roll ruled, and the messages interwoven are golden, it can drag at
times. You may just have to love the little things, as they slowly
unfold. Some may even say the film needed to be shortened, with some
of the plot cut out to make it quicker paced. I would agree that for
some, the pace may be too slow. But to cut any part of this film
would be a travesty. The story, like so few out there, really
utilizes every character and plot portion. It almost needs them all,
so at the end of the day, the film is a wonder. But for those of us
who like a quicker story, it may not be so wonderful.
The video on this disc is a bit off, representing an average at
best presentation. The short end is that it has some light film
grain, color saturation in some places and black levels that are off
here and there. More than anything, the distinct color patterns of
the time come through, but sometimes they come through too much, or
shift altogether in the middle of a scene. The anamorphic transfer
helps, but some work needed to be done on the color balance. The
audio is about average as well, representing a
less-than-encompassing mix. This definitely isn't going to give your
speakers a workout. The distinct 50s tunes come through well though,
so there is a positive side.
The extras do help out a good bit. A theatrical trailer for both
this film and Diner (another
of the "Baltimore series") is included. A batch of
interviews with cast members and writer/director Levinson is good
and insightful, if short. One deleted scene is here, and while it
isn't missed, it was a nice little scene. The bonus is that Levinson
introduces the scene and explains why it was cut, which is always a
good thing with deleted footage. A music-only track, that is good
but not great, and some on-set footage round out the offerings. Not
too shabby treatment for a lightweight box office film.
Levinson's film is a delight. That is the bottom line. It isn't
perfect, and it can be on the long side for some film viewers, but
it's still a great period piece. The fact that a man who lived in
that era is telling the story with autobiographical anecdotes mixed
in only further solidifies the film's status. Aside from an average
presentation, the disc is a good one for any fan of this film or
Levinson's work. Definitely give it a try, and I'd recommend a buy.