The Hate U Give

 

starstarhalf

 


A harsh reality given a treatment ultimately softer than it deserves.

 

Hate U Give

KJ Apa and Amandla Stenberg

 

Here we have a film that starts out so strongly that it becomes deeply disappointing when it fails to maintain that standard. A prologue both brief and powerful set some years ahead of the main narrative underlines the fact that, regardless of their behaviour, young African Americans can expect at some time in their lives to be stopped by police in a confrontational way. Subsequently an extreme but utterly credible example of that provides a key moment in the life of the film's 16-year-old heroine, Starr, played with great assurance by Amandla Stenberg.

 

Starr lives with her parents (Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall) in a working class area where her own race predominates but it's a tough district and to improve her prospects she is sent to a private school where many of the pupils are white (indeed both Starr's best friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa) are white). Narrating her own tale Starr admits to being two people, that is to say somebody who consciously adopts a different manner away from home to fit in and be accepted more readily in school. But, when she witnesses the unjust killing by a policeman of a close friend who is African-American (the excellent Algee Smith from Detroit), she has to face the fact that if she speaks out it will become news in a way that will affect how she is seen by her school fellows and endanger her family including her brothers.

 

The screenplay may not be quite on the level of last year's Oscar winner Moonlight, but this is compelling, serious stuff that gains from the fact that the scenes of Starr at home and in school provide a credible everyday background. There is no lurch into melodrama when the killing occurs and it all seems real enough to gain weight by reminding us of real-life situations all too close to this. In line with that, the film's title when quoted in the dialogue emerges as a reference to how abuse and mistreatment of African Americans by whites fosters hate in them.

 

Unfortunately, at 133 minutes, The Hate U Give becomes more than a little bloated but that is far from being the only fault. As it proceeds the writing falters: some characters seem over-simplified, others make statements that feel set up or which would lead to a confrontation that is then sidestepped. In addition, there's no chemistry between Stenberg and Apa while Anthony Mackie as a powerful drug dealer takes up too much footage to limited effect. As for the music score, it becomes increasingly sentimental and ultimately the film tries to have its cake and eat it (a child picks up a gun but, even so, there's a suggestion that a vicious circle exists here which could be broken and that comes over as wishful thinking). The source material (a novel for young adults as I learnt subsequently) may well have been better suited to all this, but on screen what seemed to demand a stark ending to count as a warning emerges instead as one that modulates into a piece of soap. Clearly well-intended, The Hate U Give begins in what is all too readily recognisable as the real world but ends up in one that feels fictional.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON       

  

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa, Issa Rae, Algee Smith, Lamar Johnson, TJ Wright, Dominique Fishback, Sabrina Carpenter, Megan Lawless, Common, Anthony Mackie, Susan Santiago.

  

Dir George Tillman Jr, Pro Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr, Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, Screenplay Audrey Wells, from the novel by Angie Thomas, Ph Mihai Malaimare Jr, Pro Des William Arnold, Ed Craig Hayes and Alex Blatt, Music Dustin O'Halloran, Costumes Frank Fleming.

 

20th Century Fox-20th Century Fox International (UK).
133 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 22 October 2018. Cert. 12A.