Achieving only a small level of sympathy it hopes for, Hate Crime bludgeons viewers with melodrama instead of exploring the social forces underlying the crime it titles itself after. With their son Raymond (Jordan Salloum) on death row for killing a gay man, Tom (Kevin Bernhardt) and Ginny Brown (Amy Redford) grapple with grief and regret the night of his execution while the parents of the victim Kevin do the same.
Directed by Steven Esteb, Hate Crime comes close to being a cathartic story about repression, justice, and forgiveness in the aftermath of a hate-motivated murder. Unfortunately, the scope is too small to be effective. The story’s definition of a hate-motivated crime and why they are committed is misguided. Offenses of this nature can’t be viewed granularly as the story does with Raymond, his parents, and Kevin, the victim. The title is immediately at war with what the Brown and Demarco family are going through and uncovers about their son in the twilight hours of his life.
Hate Crime is at its best when it becomes a commentary on the relentless emotion turmoil families undergo as they wait the execution of a family member. Tom’s slowly and aloof exterior and Ginny’s mournful performance are impactful during these moments and highlight the capability of Bernhardt and Redford. It’s a shame they aren’t trusted more in the more emotional moments, as they’re undercut at every turn by an incessant piano which belongs on a bad soap opera rather than a film.
The script by Jonah Tapper ticks through the hours before and after the execution of the Brown’s only son Raymond. In the beginning, their relationship to the story in this rural drama is well masked. It’s easy to think they’re the victim’s parents rather than murderer’s, setting the stage for a family isolated and hiding from their community. Emotional breakdowns and harassing phone calls leave the impression they’ve been ostracized, rather than being the parents of a murderer. Once you realize who they are, watching becomes uncomfortable. Normally, this is a feature, not a bug. There’s a exceptional film about death row’s morality, but not in the middle of the movie titled Hate Crime.
The Browns are not the only family navigating the hours before the death penalty is handed down. The victim’s father and mother, John (John Schneider) and Marie Demarcos (Laura Cayouette), find themselves called to Raymond’s cell in the waning hours of his life. The story builds to a nerving confrontation between John and Raymond before his sentence is carried out, but neither of them have anything unique to say before cutting away. Hate Crime is full of moments like this. It’s withholding, but not the kind which builds mystery or anticipation. It leaves us to assume there is no substance underneath any of it.
There is a little though. Before the fade to black, the story lifts the veil on the Brown’s family dynamic. Tom’s cold surface finally comes down when the real story between Raymond and Kevin comes into the light. He grapples with his role as a father and the values he parted to his son. But like everything before, Hate Crime feels afraid to acknowledge dark reality and rushes to the refuge of optimism instead of committing to the world it set up.
Hate Crime sows the seeds of a stomach-churning impactful story. It just doesn’t cultivate its sprouting ideas. The story toils away for 90 minutes before it finds the kernel of clarity and emotional honestly it feels the story wanted to be based on from the very beginning.
2.0 ticket stubs out of 5
Hate Crime will be available on digital streaming platforms – Amazon, InDemand, DIRECTV, FlixFling, FANDANGO, Vudu, AT&T, and Sling/Dish – on August 24th.
Did you see Hate Crime? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments! But remember, we’re all friends here, so keep the conversation civil.