Much like the masterpiece “Crash”, also released in 2005, “Hate Crime” involves the horrible nature and after effects of crimes based on hatred and prejudice while episodically following an array of characters including the law officials attempting to make sense out of what happened. Though “Hate Crime” is topically more relevant, it sadly really never lives up to the potential and excellence it’s really capable of. Robbie and Trey live in a quaint little neighborhood together. When new neighbors move in, intolerant of the two, they begin harassing them. Things suddenly take a turn for the worse when Trey is found beaten by his husband and later dies in the hospital. The film instead of focusing on the effects the crime would have on one person, releases a chain of after effects upon its characters. Sadly, though the film never amounts to much, and often feels like a re-run of “Law & Order”, procedural characters and all.
The writing is often very solid with a plot that seems to want to go somewhere, with a very good standout performance by Lin Shaye who, though a simple woman, is loyal to Trey and Robbie even denouncing her own religion to stick by them. But beyond her, the characters are never layered enough to become involved with. We never get a sense of the desperation behind Robbie to find the person or persons who killed him. But the plot does in fact take an interesting twist when this hate crime suddenly has a brand new list of suspects, and then becomes an intriguing mystery to who may have murdered Trey. Chad Donella is also very fascinating giving his usual nuanced performance as Chris, the homophobic and very threatening young son of a militant pastor (Bruce Davison) who is suspected of murdering Trey. I was mixed with this film ultimately because there were so many possibilities for an excellent study of hate crimes, and the prejudice against homosexuals in this country, but we’re subjected to weak dialogue, and a plot that fails to build-up tension, or implant that searing thought in your mind that eventually something has to give.
Yet, we’re given two badly characterized detectives investigating the murder and the possible new suspects, and much of Trey attempting to prove Chris committed the act. While the similar film “Crash” examined the social topic through shades of gray, “Hate Crime” really paints the situation as black and white. Though, it’s almost impossible to paint the murder of a homosexual man as gray without really writing yourself in to a corner, there could have been so much more done here. We know from the get go the religious family are close-minded idiots clinging to their beliefs, and the people involved with Trey are justified in their belief that revenge is a must. They’re the more idyllic ingredient, while the religious family really does come off as mustache twirling villains; and Davison is too good an actor to be relegated to such a one-dimensional antagonist role. While Stovall’s study of hate crimes is well acted, and with the right intentions, it can never get off the ground and feel like a unique dissection, and still comes off as an episode of a cop show in the end.