(director: George Tillman Jr.; screenwriter: Audrey Wells/novel by Angie Thomas; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr.; editors: Craig Hayes/Alex Blatt; music: Dustin O’Halloran; cast: Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), Issa Rae (April Ofrah, activist lawyer), Russell Hornsby (‘Mav’ Carter), Regina Hall (Lisa Carter), Common (Carlos), Anthonie Mackie (King), Sabrina Carpenter (Hailey), Lamar Johnson (Seven Carter), Dominique Fishback (Kenya), Algee Smith (Khalil), K.J. Apa (Chris); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr., Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey; Twenthieth Centuty Fox; 2018)

A powerful social justice drama but not necessarily a powerful film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Tillman Jr. (“Faster”/”Notorious”) directs a powerful social justice drama but not necessarily a powerful film (an overlong one that drags at times) that’s based on the late Angie Thomas’ bestselling 2017 young adult novel. It tells the story about 16-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who was reared in the fictional poverty-stricken black Georgia neighborhood of Garden Heights and commutes to Williamson Prep–a predominantly white suburban school. This causes the conflicted Starr to act black at home and white at school. Her socially hip loving parents, the ex-con Maverick (Russell Hornsby) and Lisa (Regina Hall), have drilled into Starr, her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright) how to act cooperative around the police when stopped by them because the men in blue have a history of violence against blacks on stops. At a party, Starr encounters an old childhood chum, Khalil (Algee Smith), who works as a drug dealer for the local crime lord King (Anthony Mackie). While driving Starr home, Khalil gets stopped for a traffic violation. When standing outside his car, Kalil reaches for his hairbrush and is fatally shot by the cop thinking he was reaching for a gun. The film shows how this incident pushes Starr into eventually becoming a political activist, after worrying at first how the whites in her school will react if she comes forth as a witness. The narrative should please the Black Lives Matter contingent, as it shows that it’s normal in the black community to not trust the police. I’m told the title refers to the late Tupak Shakur’s acronym: T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., meaning the hate you give little infants affects everybody. It gets its point across while not going extremist but displaying a soft edge. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but blacks dealing with cops in their community is certainly a hot button issue–one that seems to outrage all sides. The aim here is to calm the rage on both sides and to find a civil way to deal with each other, especially by young people. Common is Starr’s uncle and a cop, who walks a fine line trying to cut things down the middle as he tries to explain things as to how a cop sees them. K.J. Apa plays Starr’s secret from her family white boyfriend, who is willing to expand his mind over the racial divide (something whites are encouraged to do).

REVIEWED ON 12/1/2018 GRADE: B-     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/