Riveting 'Hate Crime'
by David Alexander Nahmod
Hate Crime (Image Entertainment)
One of the most important queer films in years comes to DVD after a mysteriously brief theatrical run. Tommy Stovall's Hate Crime is at once hypnotic, deeply disturbing, emotionally devastating, and grandly cathartic. We're getting more LGBT films every day, yet few tell the truth about what goes on in our lives. Like the AIDS drama Longtime Companion (1990), Hate Crime is almost documentary-like in its depiction of the difficult issues we deal with. Both films feature the great character actor Bruce Davison, who shows, from one film to the next, a dramatic range few actors can convey.
In the earlier film, Davison played a gay man with AIDS caring for his dying lover while he prepares to face his own mortality. In the new film, he plays a vile, homophobic "man of God" who makes Fred Phelps seem tame in comparison. Though Davison received an Oscar nomination for Longtime Companion, the actor has yet to win any awards, which seems amazing when one examines his body of work.
Shot in Dallas, Hate Crime opens quietly. Robbie and Trey (Seth Peterson, Brian J. Smith) are an attractive, upscale gay couple who plan to celebrate their sixth anniversary with a commitment ceremony. They are also talking about adopting a child.
But their lives begin to change when Chris (Chad Donella), an angry young man, moves in next door. It isn't too long before Robbie and Trey begin hearing the dreaded F-word, "faggot." Donella, another superb actor, makes that word sound as ugly as it should.
Chris soon wins viewer sympathies when we learn more about his background. He's the brow-beaten son of Pastor Boyd (Davison), a mean-spirited preacher who thinks he's doing the "Lord's work." The Pastor gives no thought to the damage his words of hate might cause. He's "saving souls."
In one powerful scene, Pastor Boyd is seen delivering a Sunday sermon that could have been given by Hitler. This scene juxtaposes a sermon given simultaneously at the local chapter of MCC, where love and tolerance are taught.
Soon Trey is killed in a brutal gay-bashing. All fingers point to Chris Boyd, but the police are largely apathetic. Robbie's tears turn to rage, and he decides to avenge his lover's death on his own.
This is where the film raises even more issues, not only on the nature of revenge, but on the damage that can be caused by religious bigotry. Not only is Chris an innocent man, he's struggling with his own demons. Pastor Boyd's son turns out to be a closeted gay man, and the Lord has not answered his prayers to "cure" his "affliction."
It will surprise no one when the real killer's identity is revealed. LGBT viewers may cheer when the coward gets on his knees and begs for mercy as Robbie holds a gun to his head.
The film's cast is superb. Peterson, an emerging talent, shows a dramatic range to rival Davison's as he shows three distinct sides of Robbie: loving spouse, heartbroken and bereaved lover, angry vigilante. Honorable mentions must go to Cindy Pickett as Trey's mom, and Lin Shaye as a kindly neighbor, both of whom help Robbie in his quest for justice.
Another surprise is former model Susan Blakely, an occasional actor who made a brief splash in the 70s, then faded away. Blakely appears as Mrs. Boyd. She is quite good as a loving wife and mother who supports the party line, yet manages to leave a few hints that she might not fully believe what she says. Like Chris, she has been brow-beaten into submission.
Hate Crime needs to be seen and discussed. Unlike Pastor Boyd, the film never preaches.
Image Entertainment presents Hate Crime letterboxed. There are two behind-the-scenes documentaries, a commentary track with director Stovall, several deleted scenes, and the film's trailer. Hate Crime briefly played the Castro Theatre this past spring. The two-day booking was a benefit for CUAV, and footage of the opening-night party at the theatre is offered. Composer Ebony Tay is seen in her music video Jesus by 45, a Billboard Top 40 hit that's heard on the film's soundtrack.