Director: George Tillman Jr.
Cast: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton, Dennis White, Julia Pace Mitchell
RunTime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Rating: R21 (Sexual scene and Coarse Language)
Official Website: http://www.foxinternational.com/notorious
Opening Day: 16 April 2009
"Notorious" is about the life of rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. In just a few short years, The Notorious B.I.G. rose from the streets of Brooklyn to become one of the most influential hip hop artists of all time. B.I.G. was a gifted storyteller; his narratives about violent life on the streets were told with a gritty, objective realism that won him enormous respect and credibility. His stories were universal and gave a voice to his generation.
One can almost see this film coming because of Hollywood's insatiable appetite for
biographies of musicians, given how well received some got and the critical acclaim
received, with the likes of Ray and Walk the Line to name but a few movies from the
genre. If they're filled with controversies, then they're all the more being
swallowed hook, line and sinker for production. The Notorious B.I.G aka Christopher
Wallace (Jamal Woolard) was a rising star in East Coast gangsta rap, until he was
unceremoniously cut down to size in a shooting in LA, thereby immortalizing him like
a martyr of sorts to fans around the world.
Director George Tillman Jr's treatment is exceptionally standard fare unfortunately,
and if you were to Wiki Wallace's biography, that's the entire film from start to
end, so this serves as a spoiler warning for you not to Wiki the performer for
background knowledge if you know close to zilch. Despite a rather colourful past
with heaving dealings in “pharmaceuticals” for paper (cash that is, in gangsta
speak), the film paints a rather sympathetic picture of a Wallace as a boy picked on
because of his size, and in a skewed moment of fate decides to junk his excellent
academic grades for the 'hood activities to earn money, to get high, and to snag the
And only in America it seems, in the land of opportunities can one turn around one's
fortunes after waking up one's idea, and embark on a crusade of sorts to monetize
one's talents. Wallace knows that he's a wordsmith extraordinaire, and often come up
tops in street side rap battles. Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) sees that
talent to get the East side regain some respect after having that gangsta rap owned
by the West, and the rest as they say, is history. Wallace becomes the Notorious
B.I.G. and the film goes on to examine the flaws of a man who has made it larger
than life, with success getting to his head, and a libido that's hard to keep under
wraps. It's a lust for power, influence, the greed of money and women.
Despite the almost 120 minute runtime, the film felt to have summarized a fair bit
in the treatment of Wallace's successes and failures. His personal life was quite
messy, and while the film does try not to steer away from unflattering moments, you
can feel that it does skirt around and tries to be politically correct, no doubt
having Sean Combs as an executive producer may have ensured that anything sensitive
would be avoided so as not to offend the other characters / real life persons who
are still very much alive and kicking. So those looking at whether this film will
suggest or point fingers at those responsible for the dastardly acts against Tupac
(Anthony Mackie) and Wallace would have to look elsewhere.
Those curious about his music would be better off checking out his albums instead.
The film features only a few key tracks that had a huge milestone effect on his life
and career, especially during those East-West side rivalry that the media exploited
for their own ends. This brought about about some rifts in personal relationships
and a key sense of danger and adversary in the film, which is one of the many focus
in Wallace's relationships, especially with the women in his life like mom Voletta
(Angela Bassett, who herself made people sit up with her heartfelt performance as
Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Gotta Do With It), and celebrity performers
like Lil Kim (Naturii Naughton) and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith).
If you're a fan of celebrity biographies, then this film would have served its
purpose, and not so much as to how Christopher Wallace affected his choice of music
genre and its fans, which Tillmam Jr just reduced to a final scene and a couple of
narration. It doesn't answer many questions or presented a very compelling study of
the phenomenon known as the Notorious B.I.G.
(A standard biography of a larger than life artiste)
Review by Stefan Shih