‘The Hate U Give’ does a lot with very little
Despite its content limitations, "The Hate U Give" feels as real as it gets
Released into select theaters this past weekend, “The Hate U Give” is here to show that young adult novels can bring relevant issues to the big screen. Based off the 2017 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenage black girl living in an urban neighborhood while attending a prestigious prep school. Her life takes a drastic turn once she witnesses a close friend from her neighborhood get wrongfully shot by a police officer. Now Starr, the only witness, must decide how much information to reveal in order to keep herself, her family and her community safe.
“The Hate U Give” brings on a unique challenge for the kind of story it’s trying to tell. Unlike many modern-day R-rated movies portraying African American issues, this film has a PG-13 rating — which could limit the level of grittiness that other films could get away with. Fortunately, “The Hate U Give” overcomes this hurdle with a story that feels as real as it gets.
The film’s message isn’t the most subtle and it’s hard to tell if it will stand the test of time, given how it mainly speaks to the generation of today. Regardless, there’s no denying that the realistic world depicted is one plenty of people from this generation will latch on to.
The dialogue is written and delivered with pinpoint authenticity, never becoming distractingly raunchy. While the look and directorial style lacks the personality level of a Spike Lee film, the restraint works to push the believability factor, allowing the subtle editing and cinematography to take center stage.
Easily the strongest aspect is the outstanding cast. Every character, down to the youngest son played by TJ Wright, feels fleshed out and layered — thanks to both the well-written screenplay and the fantastic performances. Amandla Stenberg, who most remember as Rue from “The Hunger Games,” brings the emotionally complex Starr to life as her character must balance two worlds that are close to colliding. The material is understandably heavy, but the young actress orates it effortlessly. Essentially, she’s the glue that holds this entire film together.
Equally outstanding is Russell Hornsby, who portrays Starr’s father named Maverick. Hornsby’s gripping performance is truly Oscar worthy. Just by looking in his eyes, we can tell that this worn-out old man has been through a lot and is looking for the safest way to make sure his kids don’t go down his same path. His character is not perfect. Maverick ropes his family into danger without realizing it, simply because he doesn’t know better. Hornsby plays the role with a level of ruggedness that makes him feel like a man to look up to. Nearly every scene involving him was riveting.
The emotional complexity extends into the world inhabited by these characters as well. Throughout the movie, we see that there is no pure good or bad side to root for. Things don’t always wrap up with a pretty bow on top for everyone at the end. What matters more is that the characters have come to terms with the world they live in. As long as they can be true to themselves, everything will be alright.
There are a few minor issues that keep the film from perfection. Starr’s friend who gets killed has one elongated scene with her before his death that is handled very well. The chemistry and natural dialogue of both actors shines through here. While we do get a good sense of his backstory and personality, after his death, a lot is revealed about his life that is blatantly explained to us. An extra scene or two before his death would have helped in better establishing his character.
The movie also heavily relies on narration by Starr to help tell the story. This mostly works. However, the beginning and end of the film feel like they could have left a bigger impact without it.
“The Hate U Give” is a gripping, hard-hitting tale that is sure to leave an impact. While it’s no masterpiece, given its content restrictions, it’s amazing the film ended up as great as it did. For those looking for a break from mindless blockbusters, take some time to watch this. You won’t regret it.