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Reel Thoughts
By Neil Cohen


Hate Crime

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Hate CrimeIn November 2004, a terrible hate crime occurred, the effects of which will only become apparent over the next four years. In this hate crime, certain people instigated others to do their dirty work for them, and their Evangelical Christian pawns were more than happy to oblige, voting to outlaw gay marriage and voting into office the most intolerant group of lawmakers we've ever seen.
    Now, I know it's a stretch to call the 2004 elections a hate crime, but it certainly has the potential to become one, and Tommy Stovall's terrific new film of the same name shows how. When people are indulged in their prejudices, they become emboldened to act some just by voting to strip equal rights away, and some by attacking the innocent gay man who lives next door. Hate Crime, which has its Arizona premiere March 4 at the Sedona Film Festival, is a gripping drama about a gay couple who see firsthand the effects of Evangelical fervor.
    Robbie (Seth Peterson) and Trey (Brian J. Smith) live their lives in relative happiness in their suburban Dallas neighborhood. They're good friends with everyone, and are looked upon as surrogate sons by their salty neighbor across the street, Kathleen (played by Lin Shaye, memorable as the super-tanned Magda in There's Something About Mary). They have problems, Trey wants a commitment ceremony and Robbie doesn't see why, but nothing major.
    That is, until Chris Boyd (Chad Donella) moves in next door. To say he's tightly wound is an understatement; to say he hates gays, an even bigger one. Robbie does a little research and finds out that Chris is the son of an evangelical pastor (Bruce Davison) whose sermons on sin and divine punishment contrast sharply with those of the church Robbie and Trey attend.
    When Trey is brutally attacked one night, Robbie, wracked with guilt, begins a dangerous journey of revenge. The Dallas Police even try to turn him into a suspect in the attack. The twists and turns that follow in Hate Crime are reminiscent of In the Bedroom and a Coen Brothers film like Blood Simple, without the showy camera work.
    Tommy Stovall has done amazing work as a first-time filmmaker, drawing out extraordinary performances from his cast. Cindy Picket (Ferris Bueller's mom) and Susan Blakeley, as two very different mothers, have a confrontation scene that is classic a nurturing grief-stricken mother faced with the clueless intolerance that killed her only child. Donella is frightening because he is so truthful, and the always-superb Davison adds another finely-tuned performance to his resume. Shaye, who's easily able to play the most outrageous of characters, finally gets to be a real person, and her down-to-earth performance gives the film another dimension. Peterson and Smith are handsome and utterly appealing, without falling into saintly stereotypes. Even their dog is great!
    Hate Crime is gripping entertainment, and its ambiguous moral questions will prompt discussions. Although I predict it will find regular distribution and come to "a theater near you," it's worth the drive to beautiful Sedona to support the Film Festival, see the stars, and show your appreciation to filmmakers Stovall and his partner, Marc Sterling, two Sedona residents who I hope will continue to make films as provocative as Hate Crime. (Next time, in Arizona please!)