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Review: The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.)

Amandla Stenberg and Algee Smith in The Hate U Give

A message movie to put all other message movies to shame. The Hate U Give knows its message, knows every word of its text and every meaning of every word, every reference and every addendum. And it makes itself from that message, not so much inextricably linked to it as it simply is it - this is direct action via filmmaking, and each breath it takes is diverted away from extraneous concerns toward fuelling the clear, uncompromised delivery of that message. Its protagonist a teenager, and its primary demographic of a similar age, this movie is the finest, most thorough cinematic representation to date of contemporary theories and dialogues on America's race problems (or, perhaps, racism problems).

Thus, in the earnest and unyielding delivery of its message, The Hate U Give is a total success on its own terms, which are noble and satisfying, though the movie itself is not always such a satisfying experience. It's nit-picking, without question, but the route we take toward constructing a narrative to provide the ideal vessel for said message delivery is formulaic, rather than familiar, indebted more to the conventions of cinema and entertainment than it is to the realities of life. That it is able to communicate the nature of those realities so clearly, then, is arguably an even greater feat, but if the ends may partly justify the means, they cannot entirely negate the means' mildly vapid qualities. George Tillman Jr. has never been a director possessed of a particularly compelling mise-en-scene - his work here may be elevated by an intelligent screenplay by the late Audrey Wells, but it never overcomes its pedestrian temperament.

Wells' fine work adapting Angie Thomas' novel provides a robust foundation, however, for a movie of great conviction, and brimful with opportunities for its cast. A marvellous ensemble is led by the remarkable Amandla Stenberg, a young performer of whom much is demanded and who produces yet more - it's a Starr-making turn! The commitment of the cast in translating the script's complex ideological and political details with optimum faith and persuasiveness affords The Hate U Give power and urgency, and validates every such detail in the process. They become the movie's strongest, most durable vessels for delivering the message that makes it, and their collective contribution lingers longest. This is, even considering its shortcomings, a handsome and riveting movie, for it is a riveting message that plainly must be heard.

Image Credit: MovieStillsDB

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