Romanticising the aggressive male stereotype is nothing new to the 1990s. Pulp Fiction did it, but Quentin Tarantino’s shtick for directing such narratives makes it work. Natural Born Killers and a whole host of others managed to provide that manic hostility that bled into mainstream culture throughout this period. La Haine wishes to do much the same, taking itself to the post-riot streets of France, as three young adults wait to hear about the recovery of their friend, caught up in the fray of civilian unrest.
Kassovitz never gives us much reason to care for hoodlums, solely because they’re our lead characters doesn’t mean we should like them. Their attitudes and thuggish mannerisms scream of good performance, but little reason for us to care about their wellbeing. La Haine works that into its favour from time to time, but interest in these leads is integral to the overarching story this director wishes to tell. At its core, the message is rather docile and plain, what this cast does with it though is nothing out of the ordinary. Competent performances from a couple of strong actors, most of whom struggle to curate moments of interest. Understanding why these characters lash out is integral to comprehending the wider merits of its prose and approach, but Kassovitz doesn’t get into the worthwhile moments enough, his sweeping cinematography taking centre stage, rather than a muddled but interesting story driven by moments of thematic interest.
Cassel gives a solid enough performance, an angry and seemingly entitled teen struggling with something or other, threatening shopkeepers and smoking joints. A thoroughly prevalent anti-police film, La Haine doesn’t hide its rather obvious message at least. There are far better films portraying a hate for the police and the brutality they often champion in these fictional worlds. Scum, Dredd and Starship Troopers all crack through the few ideas and messages La Haine struggles to shine a light on. When it isn’t attempting to hold down its subjects, it does showcase a relatively engaging, character-led film.
At its core, La Haine has a concept worth exploring and characters that pride themselves on their actions in a manner that feels smug but oddly justified. A case of a director trying far too hard to keep his work fast-paced, in pursuit of that horrid “z word”. Zeitgeist. Kassovitz fails to do so, not for lack of trying. Nothing aggressively bad, but such a surprise to see this one swirls around the ideas and aggression that could be tapped into with great ease. Young adults with time to kill, worries on their mind and a rebellious nature, portrayed as nothing more than your average teenager lashing out at authority, just these lads are armed with a revolver and a passionate hate for law and order. Interesting as a topic for discussion and some nice bits and pieces, but a film that relies on the shock and awe factor of one or two of its scenes presents a smug nature to its audience.