Katie Dellamaggiore’s first feature, Brooklyn Castle, is an engaging, feel-good, get-angry documentary of the sort you can see just about everywhere these days. It’s better made than many, and has fairly engaging subjects under its lens. It encourages outrage against a status quo while celebrating the human spirit that can overcome it. It also looks and feels very like a dozen other well-made, well-meaning, self-righteous documentaries you’ve seen recently.
About a national-champion chess team from the poverty-ridden Broadway Triangle neighborhood of Brooklyn, this movie showcases the surprising preeminence of low-income minority kids in a game most people associate with upscale suburbanites. Its primary source of drama is the same as in any sports team movie: the kid with mad skills who doesn’t meet expectations; the underdog who really needs a scholarship; the heart of the team whose passion for helping others may strip his personal resources such that he has little left for himself. Other familiar characters include proud parents, fiercely involved coaches, and administrators who have to juggle the needs of the team among the needs of every other student in a school desperate for cash. Clear mandates, from the movie to anyone watching, are to send a letter to a congressman and to write a check to a school.
A major subplot of the story, one that eventually overwhelms every other element, concerns the basic injustice of a system in which the actions of a few corrupt bankers can upset the economy so severely that they rob children of fair opportunities. Chess, says Brooklyn Castle, is more than a game to these kids. It’s a road to self-esteem, a way out of ADD-induced frustration, a launch platform for all kinds of achievement. If you don’t get your dander up at the sight of kids and teachers holding walk-a-thons and selling candy bars to pay for activities the state formerly afforded gratis, this movie suggests that you must be a monster. I would tend to agree. The trouble is that, heard often enough, this message begins to blend into the static of a thousand similarly worded, equally worthy messages. To make a real impact, a documentary must find its creative hook, its unique perspective. Otherwise, it’s just another Spellbound meets Waiting for “Superman” entertainment.
in theaters October 19, 2012
running time: 101 mins rating: not rated
for more information, please visit http://www.brooklyncastle.com