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Film review: Hate

Published: Tuesday, July 9 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Where Larry Clark's "Kids" failed miserably, Mathieu Kassovitz's "Hate" succeeds.

In "Kids," Clark couldn't make his disillusioned youths seem human (of course, it didn't help that the film went nowhere).

In "Hate," however, the three young Parisians featured are much more three-dimensional, realistic and even strangely likable, despite their sometimes vicious expressions of hatred toward authority, including the police.

Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Kounde) come from somewhat different backgrounds (Vinz is Jewish, Said is an Arab and Hubert is black) but are united in their friendship. They also represent three parts of the young French psyche — violent rage, opportunism and peaceful compromise, respectively.

"Hate" takes place during one day, as each is affected differently by the vicious police beating a friend has received during a riot.

Hubert, an aspiring boxer, is desperate to escape the violence, as well as the slum where he lives. Vinz, who fancies himself to be Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle character from "Taxi Driver," has found a gun (which was lost by a riot policeman) and is now looking to get revenge.

It's an especially eventful day for the three. As the movie slowly builds to a shocking, but stunning, conclusion, they are interrogated by uniformed and undercover police officers, confront a gang of Nazi skinheads, crash an art gallery reception, try to steal a car and play Russian roulette with a rich drug dealer.

The last three scenes give the film a much-needed sense of humor, while others provide the characters with motivation and emotional depth that help avoid cliched political posturing.

All the performances are excellent, especially Cassel, who has extensive acting and directing credits in France. He makes Vinz compelling as he alternates between smoldering rage and an even more troubling, emotionless — but not vacant — stare.

Kassovitz, who also directed "Cafe Au Lait," is up to the task of matching his actors. He cuts from scene to scene in a hit-and-run manner that makes each sequence more jarring.

Shot in stark black and white and intercut with scenes from actual riots, "Hate" accurately reflects the current distrust of the government, especially the police, both in the Paris slums, and in post-O.J. Simpson trial America.

Rather than make police officers the scapegoats — some of the riot police enforcers are depicted as vicious thugs — Kassovitz wisely shows some trying to defuse the tensions and being polite in the face of taunts.

Translating the dialogue, which is in crude French slang, proved to be a challenge for Alexander Whitelaw and Stephen O'Shea, two Paris-based writers. Their interpretations, laden heavily with expletives, effectively use hip American song titles and other pop-culture references that American audiences can relate to.

With a nearly constant stream of profanities and considerable violence (the film easily earns its R rating), "Hate" definitely isn't for all audiences. However, its message, that violence won't solve anything, couldn't be better-timed.