Film Review: Red Hook Black

This slice of Brooklyn “realism” is a triple threat: badly written, directed and acted.

We’re in Brooklyn, but far from the Brooklyn currently being deemed the hipster epicenter of the universe, much to the chagrin of formerly smug Manhattanites. No, this is gritty Red Hook, where people struggle to eke out a living, like blue-collar Marco (Kyle Fields), who’s out of work and saddled with a multiple sclerosis-stricken wife, Elizabeth (Victoria Negril), whom he no longer loves. Things get complicated when her niece, Olivia (Danielle Lozeau), enters their lives, a nubile young thing who has already given up a baby for adoption. She and Marco eye each other across Elizabeth’s unknowing carcass, and guess what happens?

Red Hook Black was originally a play (by José Landivar), and, boy, does it show! For all of the various settings and set-ups director Luis Landivar—obviously a relation—has chosen to frame it with, he might just as well have filmed a stage performance, so static is the result. The writing is, frankly, abysmal, and is not helped by actors who largely verge on the edge of inept.

Fields, with the slightly cross-eyed handsomeness and approximate histrionic ability of a male model, and requisite sculpted torso, may well give the year’s worst, stiffest performance, although any actor might be defeated by lines like “You’re a pirate and you’re pushing me off the plank!” which he addresses to poor, eternally suffering Elizabeth. Negril is so determinedly pathetic, she makes Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun look like a winner in every way. Faced with total sexual rebuff from her husband—“I’m tired, it’s hard work looking for a job!”—she nonetheless asks, “Can I just look at you? Tomorrow with the MS, I could be dead.” Quel turn-on.

“Look at me: I just got laid off from work and I’m sleeping with my niece!” Marco whines, but Lozeau, as clueless as her shallow little slut of a character, doesn’t offer much of a respite from his dreary marriage. Landivar stages these excruciating dialogue scenes with near-laughable awkwardness, his camera boring in far too close to the hapless actors. There’s also a subplot featuring Marco’s recently divorced buddy, Damian (James Jackson), who has recently embarked on his own new romance, and his drug-dealing brother (Keith Walker), but that holds even less interest than the main domestic inferno, and is just as badly conceived and acted.