YA adap­ta­tion speaks to our mod­ern un­rest

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Michael Phillips Chicago Tri­bune

It’s se­ri­ously sat­is­fy­ing to watch a screen ver­sion of a young-adult best-seller that knows what it’s do­ing, and gets so much right.

Just as Angie Thomas’ de­but novel “The Hate U Give” was good enough to tran­scend the con­ven­tional YA pa­ram­e­ters, di­rec­tor Ge­orge Till­man Jr.’s fully packed film ver­sion has the stuff to pull in all sorts of au­di­ences. You never know how these things are go­ing to trans­late, or sell, or if the tim­ing’s right. I hope it is.

Re­struc­tur­ing Thomas’ story some­what, and soft­en­ing a few edges, the adap­ta­tion’s not per­fect, and some of the the­sis points sound like, well, the­sis points. But Till­man Jr. and his cast, led by an unerring, re­spon­sive per­for­mance from Amandla Sten­berg, seize ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to ac­ti­vate the drama, the re­la­tion­ships and the push-and-pull of the story’s racial and so­cioe­co­nomic di­vides.

More than just a timely #Black­LivesMat­ter nar­ra­tive, “The Hate U Give” uses its pro­tag­o­nist, a 16year-old African-Amer­i­can girl named Starr Carter, to dig into a dozen sub­jects. Starr is a shape-shifter and a code-switcher. By day she’s sur­rounded by rich, mostly white prep school kids, in­clud­ing her boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa of “Riverdale”), and her bour­geois friend Kayleigh (Sab­rina Car­pen­ter). The prep-school ver­sion of Starr is a pony­tail, a smile and a near-to­tal avoid­ance of any slang, or at­ti­tude, call­ing at­ten­tion to it­self as “ghetto.”

The rest of the time she’s an­other girl, liv­ing in a mostly black neigh­bor­hood called Gar­den Heights. Here Starr can be her­self. MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 (for ma­ture the­matic el­e­ments, some vi­o­lent con­tent, drug use) Run­ning time: 2:12 Opens: Fri­day But it’s a dan­ger­ous place in many ways, and she doesn’t see a rea­son to in­ter­twine one world with the other. Starr’s ex-con fa­ther, Mav­er­ick (Rus­sell Hornsby, ter­rific), gave “the talk” to Starr and her brother years ago about what to do and how to act when con­fronted by a white po­lice­man. He now runs a con­ve­nience store. He’s re­formed, but his past is ev­ery­where. The Gar­den Heights drug lord (An­thony Mackie) threat­en­ing the pop­u­lace is the man for whom former gang mem­ber Mav­er­ick did time. Regina Hall plays Lisa, Starr’s mother, pro­tec­tive but alert to her daugh­ter’s chal­lenges.

The spring break party that opens the novel oc­curs much later in the movie, and it’s the linch­pin scene. Starr, cau­tiously hid­ing un­der­neath a hoodie, at­tends with her half sis­ter and re­con­nects with a child­hood friend and some­time crush, Khalil (Al­gee Smith). The party turns deadly: Shots ring out, Khalil and Starr make a quick exit, and as Khalil drives Starr home, they’re pulled over by a pa­trol of­fi­cer for a bro­ken tail­light. Five min­utes later, Khalil is bleed­ing to death from gun­shot wounds. Starr is the sole wit­ness.

“The Hate U Give” be­comes the story of how one teenager must choose be­tween keep­ing her head down or hold­ing it up and see­ing ev­ery­thing, and then putting a voice to what she sees. Starr con­sents to an on-cam­era TV in­ter­view about what she saw that night. The city is about to blow, and the trial that brings “The Hate U Give” to a cli­max de­lib­er­ately echoes so many tri­als in re­cent years, in­volv­ing one more black male dead in the street.

At times in the film ver­sion, cer­tain char­ac­ters are si­lenced or backed down by the rhetor­i­cal force of Starr’s pas­sion­ate rea­son, and you can’t buy ev­ery sin­gle one of those mo­ments. It’s a heav­ily plot­ted piece, run­ning a bit over two hours. But all of it feels nec­es­sary and vi­tal. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.

ERIKA DOSS/TWEN­TI­ETH CEN­TURY FOX

A teenager (Amandla Sten­berg) is con­fronted by po­lice in “The Hate U Give,” adapted from the best-sell­ing novel.

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