DVD Review - In the Hive

Jonathan McDaniel (front) and
Michael Clarke Duncan in a scene from "In the Hive"
Loretta Divine plays Inez Johnson, the woman who runs a special school called The Hive. The Hive is a real place in Bertie County, North Carolina, that troubled, young African-American males attend for help. This movie sets the school in south central Los Angeles, and young males who attend are often illiterate, only reading sometimes at a first-grade level, despite many being 16 or 17-years-old. Many come from broken homes. Many come from street gangs. Many of whom have survived violence and have been in trouble with the law. The Hive hopes to turn their lives around and get them an education and on the right path.

Michael Clarke Duncan, in his penultimate performance before his tragic death last September, plays Hollis Hawk. Hollis is an administrator at The Hive. He's like a principal. He's also a kind of recruiter. He's the one who shepherds a lot of these young men into the school. He's also like a father figure to these young men who don't have a male role model either biologically or just socially, aside from the big-time gang leaders or successful drug dealers in the neighborhood.

In his first leading role in a feature film, Jonathan McDaniel stars as Xtra Keyz, one of four young men who is brought into The Hive at the beginning of this movie. The other three young men are Que Patterson, played by Tre C. Roberts, Rack Robinson, played by Percy Daggs III, and Courvousier Carter, played by Kevin Hendricks. The other three young men get their due, but the center of this story, written by Cheryl L. West, focuses on Xtra.

Xtra is very defiant and very resistant, the most resistant than any of the boys to embrace the goodness that The Hive is trying to provide them. At first, he lashes out at Inez, actually getting physical and somewhat violent with her. He challenges and tries to intimidate his English teacher, Parker Whitmore, played by Ali Liebert, the only white woman in this all-black environment. Xtra also disrespects, simply doesn't respond or recoils from Hollis.

You wonder why Xtra behaves this way and Inez does as well. She ceases to wonder once she visits Xtra's home-life and sees what he has to deal with. Vivica A. Fox (Independence Day and Soul Food) plays Billie, Xtra's mother who is desperate to make money to feed her three teenage children. She doesn't sling hamburgers. Instead, it's implied she turns tricks. Roger Guenveur Smith (Get on the Bus and American Gangster) plays Paris, Xtra's father who is currently incarcerated but who still uses Xtra for gang activity.

Xtra is obviously pulled in two directions. The pressure from street life is very strong. It squeezes Xtra into possibly pursuing a life of crime, which could result in his death or his being put in a jail cell. There is also pressure from everyone at The Hive to try to better his situation and rise above being a thug.

Director Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats) has echoes here of films such as Menace II Society (1993), Dangerous Minds (1995) or Lean on Me (1989). Townsend provides a more rounded view of the situation than those movies. Townsend provides various perspectives. He provides the principal's perspective, the white teacher's, the parent's and the young student's perspective. He provides them all. They're not all fully fleshed out, but he doesn't short-change them either.

Yes, Townsend's center is Xtra and his experience, and ultimately his choice of what his life is going to be and what his fate will be. While he has a lot to handle, Jonathan McDaniel carries it without much fail. McDaniel gives a fantastic performance and like with so many great actors, a lot of the performance is in the eyes, and McDaniel's eyes are beautiful and soulful and convey so much.

It helps when you have great actors to bounce off. In two powerful scenes, along side the late Oscar-nominee Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), McDaniel is able to break down and stand tall with absolute aplomb. His two scenes with Roger Guenveur Smith also allow McDaniel to shine in subtle and more sensitive ways.

The knockout scene in terms of acting has to be the one in which Xtra breaks up with his girlfriend and the mother of his son, Gemini, played by Jontille Gerard. While McDaniel is great in the scene, he doesn't do nearly the heavy lifting that Gerard does. Gerard's performance in this scene, as Gemini lays out why she can't be with Xtra any more, blows everyone else away. It is the most absorbing moment.

What is also great about Townsend's movie is that he resists the impulse that other stories about boys in the hood do. Guns are shown in this movie, but, thankfully avoids the theory of Chekhov's gun. Townsend doesn't fire any bullets. He brilliantly makes the climax about young men putting their guns down. This is in fact the most powerful thing that could happen and proves manhood better because it is the stronger man who chooses not to fire.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some sexual references and brief drug material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.


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