First off, let me get this point clear by saying that Notorious is a solid biopic with a foolproof rise-and-fall storyline that follows the line of films that have already tugged at heartstrings leaving out of the ’08.
Pleasantly played by Jamal Woolard, the film leaves the particulars of the 1997 slaying to the imagination, focusing on his growth and influence as an artist. The narrative that Woolard lays down showcases the first-time actor’s dedication of becoming Biggie. From vocal intonation to physical appearance and mannerisms, Woolard is clearly leading the pack of the colorful cast in making Notorious a film to remember for the ages.
Director George Tillman Jr. treats this film with respect – not only the hip-hop community – but to the fans and family, as well. The “assassination” was shot with alarming detail and subtle references to who may be the culprit behind the murder. But this unofficial third movie on late 20th Century American popular music (think Bird and Cadillac Records) will hold a dear place in the hearts of those who were there, who were influenced and who ultimately profitted from his demise.
The story begins in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy to be exact, where the child of a single, striving mother, Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett) calls the future legendary gangsta “Chrissie-poo.” The boy becomes a beast as a crack-dealing, gun possessing, jail-bird of Fulton Street who eventually evolves into the baddest rapper in Brooklyn.
Notorious being shot in 38 days may seem as if the folks behind it were in a mad dash to complete the project, but the hectic pace of racing from Bed-Stuy to Los Angeles was worth it as Tillman helms the camera with the capability he showcased in Soul Food and Men of Honor.
The alliance with Sean Combs (Derek Luke) leads to a record deal after friend, D-Roc, takes a charge for him. With that the doors open wide with friendships with Tupac going from good to fatal, love blossoms in three separate ways with Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Charli Baltimore all vie for the big man’s heart.
But with all of the joy that comes with success, the rule of “mo money, mo problems” applies. The sense of doom never permeates through the film. Whether or not that is a good thing, it still up for the audience to debate. Usually in-depth with her character, Angela Bassett isn’t given sufficient material to show her usual depth, leaving the supporting cast to carry the weight of B.I.G.’s shadow. Overall, the prinicipal women in Small’s life do well to balance the hectic life of fame that Christopher Wallace has become a part of.
Meanwhile, Mackie comes close to stealing every scene he’s in, his Shakur emitting a natural incandescence that contrasts with Biggie’s stolid darkness.
The script, often weighted down with expository luggage, shows the social implications of the story and how when overplayed, they only serve to show how subtle the movie really is. In the end, Notorious is a puff piece, but not full of shiny suit mania that would make you regret walking into the theater. The characters do a fine job of explaining the truth behind the myth of the Notorious B.I.G. with respect, honor and a charisma that is still unparalleled today.
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