×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Hate U Give’

This lively, complex, essential adaptation of Angie Thomas' YA bestseller features a star-making turn from Amandla Stenberg.

Director:
George Tillman Jr.
With:
Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Anthony Mackie, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Issa Rae, Lamar Johnson, Dominique Fishback, Algee Smith.

Rated PG-13  2 hours 13 minutes

Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/TheHateUGive

It probably shouldn’t be possible to make a big, broad, laugh-and-cry-engaging studio movie that hinges on the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer (and how chilling it is that this ugly phrase has long since become a stale cliché). But with his adaptation of Angie Thomas’ bestseller “The Hate U Give,” George Tillman Jr. has done just that, pulling off a brilliantly modulated balancing act between dark and light, anger and optimism, white privilege mined for pointed laughs and black fury portrayed as a galvanizing force for change. Entertaining, enraging, and ultimately deeply moving, “The Hate U Give” is poised to be a hit, and deserves to be.

Working from Audrey Wells’ lively if occasionally on-the-nose adapted screenplay, the great strength of Tillman’s film is a moral clarity as direct and challenging as skyrocketing star Amandla Stenberg’s wounded, courageous gaze. Without compromising the complexity of the issues raised, or condescending to the youth of its protagonists, “The Hate U Give” strides with absorbing, intelligent certainty through the desperately dangerous, uneven terrain of racially divided America.

Starr Carter (Stenberg) is a bright, ’90s-obsessed African-American teenager with a discerning eye for Air Jordans, living in the predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights. The local high school is “a place you go to get drunk, high, pregnant or killed,” and so she attends Williamson, a largely white private school, at the behest especially of her mother Lisa (a superb Regina Hall). Starr code-switches effortlessly between Garden Heights Starr and “Starr Version 2” — sloughing off her hoodie, swallowing any aggression that might make her seem “ghetto,” and scrubbing her vocabulary of the black slang and inflections that her white peers, including boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale” star KJ Apa) and BFF Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter), have no problem using.

But what seems to be a simple fish-out-of-water set-up (that does give rise to an amusing meet-the-parents scene among others) is complicated in a multitude of provocative ways. Starr’s family is a stable, loving unit, but it is also messy: Her parents canoodle openly (“their cuteness can be extra” eyerolls Starr), but her brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) is the child of another mother — meaning he, too, is often forced to choose between differing modes of blackness. Their father Maverick (a sympathetic, broad-shouldered, heavily tattooed Russell Hornsby), first shown giving his kids “the talk” in which he drums into them the rules for surviving a traffic stop and makes them learn the Black Panther Ten-Point Program by heart, is an ex-con who took a three-year rap to protect local gangster King (Anthony Mackie), the architect of the Garden Heights drug trade.

Long before Starr attends the fateful party where she meets childhood playmate and crush Khalil (Algee Smith), who will end the night bleeding out from bullet wounds, clutching a hairbrush that an officer mistook for a gun, there are hints of another senseless tragedy in her past. To add even more unexpected perspective to the mix, Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) is himself a cop, who will gently try to make Starr see another angle on the racist crime to which she is the only witness, before being forced to concede that “it’s a complicated world.”

Khalil’s killing is the lit fuse on the bomb that will explode Starr’s carefully compartmentalized life. She’s urged to go public by a local activist (“Insecure” star Issa Rae) while her mother counsels caution. As a compromise she agrees to do an anonymous TV interview, only to be horrified by the media’s fixation on Khalil’s potential criminality, the white-lady interviewer hiding her prurience behind a maddening, painted-on expression of sympathy. And the attitudes of her Williamson schoolmates are laid bare by their reaction to the killing even before they’re aware of Starr’s proximity to it. All this knotty texture makes it impossible to begrudge a moment of the film’s 133 minutes, and if sometimes the dialogue can get a bit preachy, like we’re lurching from one teachable moment to another, it doesn’t really matter when the lessons are this nuanced and vital.

There is no point in the last five years or so at which the storyline that “The Hate U Give” tackles so fearlessly would not have been acutely topical and potentially incendiary. But the film’s most impressive aspect is a perspective rooted deeply within the black community it portrays, that does not compromise one ounce of its rage against external injustice, while still delivering a clear-eyed assessment of problems that are only fixable from the inside: Solidarity against the enemy without should not have to mean harboring and encouraging the enemy within.

Under a soundtrack that cleverly mimics the film’s outlook by oscillating between snatches of 2Pac and modern R&B and Dustin O’Halloran’s classically melodic piano-led score, “The Hate U Give” is notable for the love it gives to characters on all sides of its multifaceted narrative, and it builds to a sense of hope amid despair that is even larger and more broadly relevant than its already enormous racial themes.

“If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Starr tells Chris in response to his clueless-white-boy shtick about “not seeing color.” But her blackness is not her only identity: She is also glowingly emblematic of a new American generation unfairly tasked with solving social ills they had no hand in making, but of which they are overwhelmingly the victims. When Starr finally finds her voice, it’s hard not see in her the Parkland students, the schoolkids who stand (or kneel) in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the ones who forego their right, as children, to protection to become themselves protectors. “The Hate U Give” places inspiring faith in black youth, but also in youth itself, in all those young people who should never have been asked to make these impossible choices, but who are maybe the only ones we can trust to choose right.

RELATED CONTENT:

Film Review: 'The Hate U Give'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 7, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running Time: 133 MIN.

Production: A Twentieth Century Fox presentation of a Fox 2000, State Street Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment production. Producers: Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr., Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey. Executive Producers: Timothy M. Bourne, Angie Thomas, Isaac Klausner.

Crew: Director: George Tillman Jr. Screenplay: Audrey Wells, based on the novel "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas. Camera (color, widescreen): Mihai Malaimare Jr. Editors: Craig Hayes, Alex Blatt. Music: Dustin O’Halloran

With: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Anthony Mackie, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Issa Rae, Lamar Johnson, Dominique Fishback, Algee Smith.

More Film

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

    Film News Roundup: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Trailer Sets Sony Pictures Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sets a studio record, Chris Meledandri and Glenn Close are honored, an art-house streaming service is unveiled, and “Cliffs of Freedom” gets a release. TRAILER STATS More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid' TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes' [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo to Star in the Thriller 'Hell on the Border'

    Frank Grillo is set to star in the action-thriller “Hell on the Border” with Wes Miller directing. Miller also penned the script with Curtis Nichouls, Henry Penzi, and Sasha Yelaun producing. Ron Perlman is also on board to co-star. More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid' TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: [...]

  • Lee Unkrich Variety Oscars Nominees Lunch

    'Toy Story 3,' 'Coco' Director Lee Unkrich to Exit Pixar After 25 Years

    Lee Unkrich, who won Academy Awards for “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” is departing Pixar Animation Studios after 25 years to spend more time with his family. Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994 after working as an assistant editor in television on “Silk Stalkings” and “Renegade.” He served as editor on Pixar’s first feature, 1995’s “Toy [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed

    Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed Back Several Months

    Warner Bros. is pushing back the production start date of its third “Fantastic Beasts” movie several months from July to the late fall, a spokesperson said Friday. Actors have been notified about the change in dates. The untitled third “Fantastic Beasts” movie has not yet set a release date. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content