The Hate U Give (2018) Review

A DEFINING CINEMATIC MOMENT

OF TODAY’S AMERICA


 

In 2018, the filmmaking engine of Hollywood has seeing plenty of “page to screen” adaptations; finding big studio precuring (and producing) these “book to film” endeavors in an attempt to find cinematic success within a literary popular / bestselling novel. Within this category are several feature films that have been adapted from the YA / teen genre Already, moviegoers have several feature films examining the angst, troubles, and triumphs of adolescent youths on a variety of theatrical motion pictures. This includes the dystopian sci-fi features of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, The Darkest Minds, and the upcoming Mortal Engines, to fantasy adventure of A Wrinkle in Time, to the more romance dramas Love, Simon, Midnight Sun, and Every Day. These movies, which are based upon the novelization of its literary source material, show the trials and tribulations that young people might face…. whether that be finding tragic true love, discovering oneself, or saving the people from an oppressive government rule, while tacking on the narrative threads of youthful melodrama within its plot. Now, 20th Century Fox (as well as State Street Pictures and Temple Hill Entertainment) and director George Tillman Jr. present the latest teen book-to-film adaptation with the movie The Hate U Give; based on the book of the same name by Angie Thomas. Does this latest cinematic endeavor succeed in its theatrical translation or does something get lost in the story’s jump to the silver screen?

THE STORY


Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) was born and raised in Garden Heights, a poor mostly black neighborhood community where she lives with her family, including Starr’s mother Lisa (Regina Hall), her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson), and her little brother Sekani (TJ Wright). However, Starr leads an almost double life, finding her roots in Garden Heights, but attends school at Williamson Prep, a rich mostly white area where she adopts a different version of herself (what she dubs “Starr 2.0”) to fit in with school’s student body. Unfortunately, Starr’s worlds (and the persona of herself she presents in each one) is forever changed when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) at the hands of a white police officer. While dealing with her initial grief, Starr must navigate the politics of speaking out or staying silent as the witness of the crime. However, this triggers conflict all around her, including receiving pressure from King (Anthony Mackie), a big-time gangster in Garden Heights who wants silence the teenager girl from “snitching” and bringing unwanted attention to the community, while Maverick encourages Starr to speak out and shine a light on the plague of police brutality against black people across the country. As media puts their own spin on Khalil’s death, Starr wrestles with her own stance on the matter, caught between two worlds and dealing with issues beyond what a normal teenager could contend with. At the end of the day, despite what many might think of her, Starr, one way or another, will need to find her own voice to stand up for Khalil.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Working at bookstore for many years now (still doing so as of the time of writing this review), I’ve seeing plenty (and I do mean plenty) of YA / Teen books being adapted into major motion pictures. Of course (like many similar endeavors in translating something from “page to screen”), the end result has been a mixed bag of sorts, with some becoming successful cinematic bestsellers (i.e. The Hunger Games saga, The Twilight Saga, The Fault in Our Stars, and most recently Love, Simon. The flip side is something that have woefully failed in that same translation from “book to film” like The 5th Wave, The Mortal Instrument: City of Bones, and The Divergent Series; a combination of being mediocre movies and “missing” the opportune moment of the film release. As I’ve said, I’ve seen many of these come and go in both at the bookstore (with almost every book getting a new “Movie Tie-In” cover with a big sticker saying “Now a major motion picture”, with the movies themselves being forgetful. Like I said above, 2018 has seen several YA / Teen movies and, for the most part, I succeed in being entertaining for its teen demographic audience of viewers. Well, maybe not A Wrinkle in Time and The Darkest Minds, but I could write a whole entire essay on what went wrong with those two movies. Suffice to say, so long as literary authors continue to produce and release YA / Teen novels (and working at a bookstore I know they constantly do), Hollywood studios will continue to adapt these literary source materials into movies (for better or worse).

This, of course, leads me into talking about The Hate U Give, the latest “page to screen” endeavor of YA / Teen novel from a major Hollywood Studio. While I do remember seeing (and shelving) the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas in the Teens section every now and again. To be honest, I thought that the title of the book was quite odd and just assumed it was just another “teen” book. It was until I saw the film’s movie trailer that I became more aware of Thomas’s novel. Like many, seeing the movie trailer caught my attention due to the subject matter that the movie was gonna take about (i.e. the racial division / tension of today’s society), which does speak to modern world. Plus, being a fan of movies and an aspiring film critic, I was quite impressed with the amount of talented actors and actresses that were attached to the feature. All in all, I was planning on seeing The Hate U Give during it’s opening weekend. Unfortunately, there were other movies (released around the same time) that I was a bit more curious to see. Plus, given the intense subject matter of the film, I had to be sure I was mentally prepared to see versus wanting to catch a movie to shut my time off from the rest of the world for two hours. (if you know what I mean). Thus, I finally did see the movie a few weeks after its initial release and now (after doing some other movie reviews), I’m finally ready to write / review my thoughts on the feature. Well, what did I think of it? While there are a few minor complaints I have about the feature, The Hate U Give is a stunning and powerful YA adaptations thanks to the thematic social commentary message and the strong representation of its cast. In a modern age of society’s division, this particular film endeavor shines a cinematic light on the real-world events.

Also, before I forget, while I was sort of planning on reading Thomas book (after seeing the film’s movie trailer), I got bogged down in trying to write other movie reviews that I missed out on earlier. So, I didn’t get a catch to read the book, which will make my review for The Hate U Give strictly based on the film itself and not so much on what was added, changed, or removed from book to film.

The Hate U Give is directed by George Tillman Jr., who’s previous directorial works includes Notorious, Faster, and The Longest Ride. Given a variety from his past endeavors, Tillman approaches Thomas’s source material with great care and meaningful, creating a motion picture that’s both well-crafted and well-made. Tillman also doesn’t shy away from the more impactful moments of the story, highlighting several key sequences of dramatic emotional moments and harsh racial tension moments. Of course, the film’s message is clear and precise and Tillman does go to great lengthy in presenting Starr’s plight and how the film’s climatic pieces collided with all the narrative threads. To his credit, Tillman does a good job in handling and directing The Hate U Give. There’re a few moments that are a bit “on the nose” (more on that below), but all in all I think that Tillman delivers a YA / Teen adaptation movie that works (and works well) as it really doesn’t feel very much like your standard YA / Teen adaptation, which is a really good thing. Additionally, the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Audrey Wells, does a good job in presenting a narrative that’s both complexed and reflective on today’s viewpoints (more on that below) as well as being engrossing in the story being told.

This, of course, brings up the film’s social commentary message that The Hate U Give’s narrative presents. It goes without saying that the movie’s story (as well as book it was adapted from) describes the recent events of police violence (both brutality and profiling) as well as depicting the division between racial / class in today’s society. It’s a really sensitive subject to shed a light upon, especially when examining the recent events that have been going on in today’s America, and Tillman (along with Wells) give this particular subject the platform it needs to be heard. The movie does a great job in sort of “holding up the mirror” towards the America’s current society on how the blunt realities of racial division can affect people and certain situation. This also extends to the media and how they try to “spin” a particular story towards one side… regardless of what’s truth and what is false. Like I said, it’s a really sensitive subject to talk about, so I won’t go on a personal rant on this subject. Suffice to say that I think there needs to be a change in today’s America. Thus, it really goes without saying the social commentary narrative in The Hate U Give is anything but a simple “black and white” difference (no pun intended) and how reality is more in the “gray area” when approaching such matters.

There is one particular scene that really strikes me the most in which certain characters do something and try to justify it for the injustice cause. The thing is, however, this scene (showing through Starr’s eyes) shows how certain people take a situation and try to “half-fake it” and don’t really care for the racial / political stance that it’s making. This particular scene is easily reflected upon today’s world and how many people care of a distraught / injustice situation or are they just simply going through the social media popularity of what’s “cool and trending”. Altogether, the story of The Hate U Give (underneath a cinematic light) is (beyond a shadow of a doubt) indeed a strong and palpable one that holds that reflects upon the harsh realities of today’s world (whether we see it / believe it or not).

In the technical category, The Hate U Give is solid feature film, creating a very wholesome cinematic endeavor through the usage of its non-character nuances (i.e. settings, decorations, costumes, editing, etc.). The movie itself won’t probably won’t snag any nominations during the award season or be known for its background setting aesthetics, but (suffice to say) that the movie’s presentation does look good with little to no blemishes to speak of. Thus, the efforts made by Mihai Malaimare Jr. (cinematography), Frank Galline (set decorations), Frank L. Fleming (costumes designs), William Arnold (production designs), and Alex Blatt and Craig Hayes (film editing) are well-enough represented in the movie that add to the cinematic undertaking of bringing Thomas’s book to life. Also, while the film’s score, which was composed by Dustin O’Halloran, is good and does help strengthen certain dramatic / emotional scenes in the feature, The Hate U Give also boast a good soundtrack selection of various rap / hip-hop artist throughout the movie.

There were a couple of problems that I noticed while watching The Hate U Give, which prevents the movie from being perfectly unscathed from movie criticism. However, most of these are minor negative problems as it really didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film. While the film’s message and thematic social commentary is indeed palpable and literally speaks volumes to a lot in today’s America, some of those particular subject matter material is a little bit “on the nose”. Yes, I do know what the movie is trying to reflect / mirror in today’s real world, but I think that Tillman Jr. drills some of those points at bit too much. It’s not like “beating a dead horse” or anything like that, but most scenes and / or points are held too long and could’ve been conveyed with a reduce amount of time. This then leads into talking about the film’s runtime, which clocks at around 132 minutes or two hours and twelve minutes. The movie definitely feels long as it has a lot of ground to cover within its intricately laced narrative threads that crisscross within the film’s main character (i.e. Starr), with some characters and motivations kind of being presented but do little beyond that. Thus, some of those unnecessary things could’ve been removed, trimming the movie’s runtime roughly ten or so minutes for a more tightly woven feature film.

In conjunction with that idea, the movie’s beginning is a bit sluggish as there’s a lot of expositional talk of Starr of explaining everything about her (i.e. who she is, her two different versions she presents, and the people around her that she comes across). It’s all essential to build up the story (as a whole), but it takes a bit longer than normal. It’s not until around the when the first big conflict arrives (roughly around the end of the first act) when the events of the movie kick in and becomes more intense and engaging. Another problem, which probably was the most frustrating to me, was the fact that Starr made some stupid decision in the movie. While there not major ones, but a few minor ones like not telling her Chris the truth about certain things. I know the movie is trying to build up the character of Starr and shows the inner conflict that she has to face, but some of the moments with Chris could’ve been easily handle (again, if she could’ve been more upfront and truthful with him) and I’m sure would be perfectly understandable for him, regardless of racial differences between them. To me, that particular sequences feel more like “teen melodrama” and sort of takes me out of the film’s story, which is deeply grounded in real world events of today’s America.

Lastly, there were a few problems I felt was when The Hate U Give moves away from Starr, most notably in taking about Garden Heights drug problem and the character of King. While this subplot is somewhat connected to why Starr doesn’t come forward in the story being told, it seems the weakest one of the narrative threads that the movie has to offer, especially given the social commentary of racial tensions and police brutality. Yes, the “war on drugs” is really important (and no laughing matter), but the story elements revolving around King seems a bit clunky and could’ve been built up stronger when Wells was developing the movie’s screenplay. It’s not a deal breaker, but (to me) it’s a bit noticeable and sort of does takeaway (a few times) from the main story at hand, which is Starr and her conflicted state of mind.

The cast of The Hate U Give is indeed a strong one, with several recognizable actors / actresses attached to the project and lending their acting talents in their respective roles. At the head of the pack is actress Amandla Stenberg, who play’s the story’s central character of Starr Carter. Known for her roles in The Hunger Games, Everything, Everything, and The Darkest Minds, Stenberg does a terrific job as Starr, with the young actress carrying a lot of the film’s dramatic moments on her shoulders. Of course, Stenberg is up for the task, making her iteration of Starr meaningful complexed and dramatically poignant throughout her journey in the movie. Much like the character she portrays, Stenberg gives a multi-layered performance, showcasing the two very distinct different personalities for Starr throughout and making her more of a well-rounded (and believable) character than most characters in the YA / Teen adaptations of late. All in all, while her acting career highlights in the YA / Teen adaptations genre, Stenberg’s performance of Starr Carter is her best performance to date (at least I think so).

In addition to Stenberg’s performance, actor KJ Apa (Riverdale and A Dog’s Purpose) does a good job in his role of Chris, who is Starr’s boyfriend. While he may not outshine Stenberg in the movie, I did like him in the movie as well as the chemistry both he and Stenberg had, which reflects upon the fictional relationship of Starr and Chris. Plus, I liked them together as it shows the more “modern” spin of people (coming from different racial backgrounds) in a relationship of today’s America (i.e. the mixed-race couples). Another person who plays an important part in Starr’s life (as well as being the main catalyst of the feature) is the character of Khalil Harris, who is played by actor Algee Smith (Earth to Echo and Detroit). Though he’s only in the movie for short while (mostly due to the narrative been told), Smith does leave an impact on the movie in his portrayal of Khalil.

In larger supporting roles is Star’s family (the Carters), who also play a part in shaping Starr’s life throughout the movie. Of them all, actor Russell Hornsby (Creed II and Fences) gets the most screen-time (and most development) in his character of Starr’s father Maverick ‘Mav’ Carter. The character itself is complex construct of idealism of racial division and of a parental figure, which does act as a somewhat of a foil for Starr to evolve throughout the movie and Hornsby is to the task in making Maverick come alive. The same can be said with the character of Starr’s uncle Carlos, who is played by musician rapper / actor Common (Smallfoot and John Wick: Chapter 2). Carols (the character) represents another evolvement piece to Starr’s storyline thread, offering up a duality of certain scenes and how the racial system works with particular situation (harsh, but true). Common is really good in the role and does offer a grounded character in Carlos. Behind him would be actress Regina Hall (Scary Movie and Girls Trip) as Starr’s caring mother Lisa Carter, who does a good job in the role. The rest of Starr’s family are made up of her siblings, including actors Lamar Johnson (The Next Step and Kings) and TJ Wright (Soiled Roots and MacGyver) as Seven and Sekani Carter; both of which give solid performances in their respective roles.

In more supporting roles are various characters that come into contact with either Starr or Starr’s family. Perhaps the two paramount characters that are highlighted in the film are April Ofrah, an activist that helps Starr find speak up and find her voice, and King, a powerful drug dealer kingpin in Garden Heights, who are played by actress Issa Rae (Insecure and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl) and actor Anthony Mackie (Detroit and Avengers: Infinity War) respectfully. I’ve seeing bits and pieces of Rae in HBO’s Insecure and she does a good job in that shows, offering up a more comedy character. That being said, the character of April Ofrah in The Hate U Give is more of a serious role and (to my surprise) Rae delivers on giving a solid performance in the role. As for Mackie, he gives a good performance as King, showing the right amount of subtle villainy bravado for what both the character and the movie needs. However, like what I said above, the character of King becomes a bit of a distracting towards the latter part of the feature, taking away from the main plight of Starr’s dilemma. Again, Mackie is fine in the role, but there could’ve been more to him rather than just acting as the “big bad”.

Rounding out the cast are minor characters in the feature, including actress Dominque Fishback (Show Me a Hero and The Deuce) as Starr’s half-sister / friend Kenya, actor Tony Vaughn (Stranger Things and Queen Sugar) as local shop-owner in Garden Heights Mr. Lewis, and actresses Sabrina Carpenter (Horns and Girl Meets World) and actress Megan Lawless (Play by Play and Table 19) as Starr’s friend from her prep school Hailey Grant and Maya Yang. These characters, though limited in their screen-time, do have one or two (or more) moments to shine in particular scene in a movie and are acted well-enough to make them memorable in their respective roles in the feature.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Through turbulent times of racial prejudice, police violence, and jagged media coverage, Starr Carter must learn to find her voice and speak out for what she believes in the movie The Hate U Give. Director George Tillman Jr. latest film sees the adaptation of the YA / Teen book by Angie Thomas and bringing forth an unflinching tale of police brutality escalation, racism on the black community of today’s America, and the harshness of judging others and of the decision we (as people) make. While the movie does stumble in a few areas, the film itself is thematically powerful in its presentations, thanks to Tillman’s direction, Thomas’s source material, the cast (especially Stenberg), and the social commentary message that reflects today’s America. Personally, I liked this movie. It was different from a lot of the other YA / Teen adaptations of late (and that’s terrific) and its storyline / message was indeed palpable and poignant that deserves to be told. Thus, my recommendation for The Hate U Give is a solid “highly recommended” one, for it is something that many should see (regardless of race or ethnic background) and to reflect upon the film’s social commentary theme in the real world. As a cautionary reminder (like I said above), the movie might be slightly unsettling to some particular individuals out there. That being said, The Hate U Give succeeds in being an excellent and well-crafted feature film, showcasing a stunning and extremely engaging story that tackles important real-world issues to impart on its viewers. In short, the movie is a defining cinematic moment of today’ America.

4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: October 19th, 2018
Reviewed On: December 18th, 2018

The Hate U Give  is 132 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material, and language

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