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Hate Crime

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/12/06 00:22:31

"Well-meaning but deeply flawed"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

When his lover Trey (Brian J. Smith) is brutally beaten to death while walking their dog, Robbie (Seth Peterson) is driven to despair both by his loss and how the cops seem to be either unable or unwilling to investigate the most obvious suspect, a new neighbor, Chris (Chad Donella), who is a raging homophobe with a gay-bashing past. When the cops inexplicably seem more interested in pushing a theory that Robbie killed Trey for the insurance money, even when they have evidence saying exactly who did it dropped on their desks, Robbie, along with Trey’s grieving mother (Cindy Pickett), decides to take the law into his own hands to bring the killer to justice. This is the premise behind the new indie drama “Hate Crime” and it is a provocative one indeed, but one that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Clearly, the film is trying to do the same thing that the great “In the Bedroom” did–showing the harsh and lasting consequences that can occur in the pursuit of even the most seemingly justifiable acts of revenge–but that film correctly told its tale with restraint and let viewers decide for themselves where they stood on the issue. Here, writer-director Tommy Stovall tries so hard to push viewers into thinking in a certain way, especially in the portrayals of a homophobic cop (Giancarlo Esposito) and a bile-filled pastor (Bruce Davison) who is the father of the chief suspect, that he winds up doing his film more harm than good. Take the scenes in which the police maddeningly seem to refuse to follow up on perfectly good leads that point to Chris as the culprit. For those who have lost a loved one through a senseless and violent crime, especially when they have their suspicions as to who was responsible, the frustration that builds up as the police go about their work can be so overwhelming that it must feel as if they are actively trying to not solve the case despite having all this clear-cut evidence in front of them. Unfortunately, subtlety is not Stovall’s strong suit–any amount of that would get in the way of his rabble-rousing finale–and he lays things on so thick that even the most sympathetic audiences are likely to feel a little insulted at being talked down at to such a degree.

Even if Stovall had approached the material with more subtlety and restraint, it wouldn’t have helped because the final revenge plot is so screwy and filled with holes (considering that the nasty cop was willing to poke holes in even the most convincing pieces of evidence, why would he cheerfully ignore the giant loose end at the finale?)–not to mention the unmistakable suggestion that cold-blooded murder is unacceptable when perpetrated by a straight, white male but perfectly acceptable when done by a female or a homosexual–that the entire film suffers as a result. Another crippling blow is the fact that the two most monstrous characters in the film, the homophobe Chris and his equally slimy and odious father (whose Sunday sermon is essentially a verbal hate crime wrapped in Scripture), are the only two interestingly depicted people here–both Donella and (especially) Davison figure out how to realistically ground their characters even as the script is going haywire around them. By comparison, the two central gay characters–the murder victim and his anguished lover, are arguably the least interesting people in the movie–they are so blandly nondescript that when they are brutally separated forever, it feels less like a genuine tragedy and more like the set-up for another CBS police procedural.

“Hate Crime” is a worthy effort and I appreciated a cinematic depiction of gays that didn’t involve flouncing or extended appreciations of musical theater. However, it just tries so hard to win us over to its point-of-view that it winds up shooting itself in the foot in the process.

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