September 8, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “The Hate U Give” & “The Hummingbird Project”


THE HATE U GIVE (20th – October 19):  YA radicalization.  George Tillman Jr’s film, from a sprawling script by Audrey Wells (based on the novel by Angie Thomas) centers on Starr (Amandla Stenberg), an African-American teen who witnesses her friend shot to death by a white cop.  But the story also wants to encompass racial identity, family dynamics, drug violence, the politics of snitching, the US justice system, the media and some soapy romance, and it’s a lot.  Sometimes Hate is provocative and moving, and sometimes it’s merely doctrinaire (Starr has a blonde school “friend” whose cluelessness is indistinguishable from racism, balanced by a genuinely sensitive white beau).  Characters can be believably complex (Common, as Starr’s policeman uncle, delivers a tough, meaty scene about being black and a cop), or blunt symbols.  Even at 132 minutes, it can feel as though important scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Hate is carried by its ambition and the force of its emotion, and by its very fine cast, which aside from the glowing Stenberg and Common includes Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby as her parents, K J Apa (from Riverdale) as the boyfriend, Anthony Mackie as the neighborhood druglord, and the surprising presence of Issa Rae in a completely dramatic role as a Black Lives Matter activist.  The Hate U Give tries too hard, and it’s accessible to a fault, but its power can’t be denied.

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT (no distrib – TBD):  There was a terrific movie to be found in the basic material of The Hummingbird Project, which tells the story of a pair of Wall Street underdogs (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard) who had the crazy idea of making millions by planting their own high-speed cable across half the country for the purpose of placing stock trades, giving them a milisecond advantage over the rest of the financial world.  One could envision it as a loose-limbed yarn in the hands of someone like the late Jonathan Demme, or a cutting social satire from Adam McKay.  However, writer-director Kim Nguyen, like his quixotic heroes, didn’t quite get there, and Hummingbird is a low-energy plod much of the time with a wobbly tone.  Eisenberg has another of his driven businessmen roles, but Skarsgard is the movie’s saving grace, seemingly having a ball in a character part as the eccentric genius behind the scheme, complete with balding pate and spectacles.  There are also fun contributions from Salma Hayek as the heroes’ former employer and antagonist, and Michael Mando (from Better Call Saul) as their chief engineer.  Hummingbird had everything it needed to be a sleeper hit except a guiding vision.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."