NOTORIOUS is the story of Christopher Wallace. Through raw talent and sheer determination, Wallace transforms himself from Brooklyn street hustler (once selling crack to pregnant women) to one of the greatest rappers of all time; THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. Follow his meteoric rise to fame and his refusal to succumb to expectations - redefining our notion of "The American Dream."Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cheo Hodari Coker, who wrote the book the film Notorious was drafted from was a staff writer with The Source Magazine. He once wrote an article about being punched in the face by Wu-Tang Clan rapper Masta Killa. See more »
A seventh generation Honda Accord is shown a couple times in the movie, but they didn't go into production until 2003. See more »
The rapper, much like a fellow form of entertainer the clown, is a persona that relies on masking weaker aspects of character and temperament in order to fulfil their role as exactly that—a person that people will be able to relate to or find solace within. Of course, comparing a rapper directly to a painted circus act only goes so far until all attempts at providing an ample analogy wear thin. Instead, rap is an artistic movement that attempts to convey the rags-to-riches story with poetry laced over simplistic musical backings built to elicit response of an audience out to either get down or simply share in that collective stream of pathos. Yet the masks that both wear nevertheless serve the same function; while the Notorious B.I.G. would eventually become key in a movement of hip-hop stars making music through the soul rather than pure social frustration, there nevertheless remains a code of conduct or, ethic to being a rap star that overrides any form of drama within the person's life to take centre-stage. Notorious takes the mask off.
Notorious then, which takes the form of a bio-pic documenting famed star Christopher "Biggie" Wallace's rise from the gutter is an unmasking of sorts that goes beyond the gold chains, sunglasses, sleek rhymes and ultra-cool persona to reveal the man behind the music. The concept of course is as old as boots, but too often it is the case that such ventures into famed celebrity lives are either told with no care for genuine character-investment or instead play far too loosely with the facts. It's a pleasure then that Notorious which is directed by George Tillman Jr. (his first feature film since the underrated Men of Honor in 2000) does well to balance both the facts and the drama to ample effect with no neglect at all given to the music that propelled Biggie to stardom. Instead, Notorious plays out like a substantive character drama that always keeps the focus on Christopher Wallace rather than Biggie Smalls, and the result is compelling in its ability to stuff in so much material into its runtime without seeming overly abundant or superfluous. Most importantly of all however is that Tillman's effort here resonates far more emotionally than one would expect; sure, the rags-to-riches story is fast becoming a sickly cliché, but Notorious remains true to its story regardless and ends up coming out feeling genuinely compelling without resorting to mundane and transparent devices.
No doubt key to the entire productions success however, regardless of how finely constructed the screenplay may be is the performance by leading man Jamal Woolard who not only embodies Christopher Wallace to a fine point, but also nails what is demanded of him when chants of "Biggie" take form. Indeed, much of Notorious' ability to keep things flowing and feeling fresh is through such instances where the drama is interlaced with Wallace's more public persona throughout the many musical interludes that transpire as the rapper makes a name for himself. Much also has to be said for Woolard's co-stars who range from friends and family to old and new lovers, some famous, some not so famous. The result is an ensemble that do well to shine on their own grounds but never get enough screen time to detract the attention away from the man himself. Of course, this does have some detrimental effect on some elements of the script's focus (namely involving his mother who battles breast cancer) but with a runtime already clocking in at two hours with very little throwaway material therein, one can't complain too much.
In the end it's obvious that existing fans of the Notorious B.I.G, Biggie Smalls, Christopher Wallace and all around hip-hop icon will no doubt find a lot more to enjoy here than casual onlookers, but even those with an affinity for these kinds of stories will find much to invest within here. Indeed, while a large portion of Notorious details the hardships that the young rapper had to overcome on his way to the top as well as many failings along the way also, it is this honest and compelling look at those words now infamously engrained within two of rap's most esteemed records that give Notorious all the flow and pathos of Biggie's work himself. And even if you can't appreciate that, then there's the fantastic soundtrack itself, the spot-on performances and a brief history lesson on one of the music industry's brightest and short-lived stars to enjoy.
A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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