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Notorious Movie Review

Notorious: A Star Is Born Playing a Tragic Figure

Notorious is a biopic based on the life and times of music legend Christopher Wallace, a.k.a Notorious B.I.G., who was tragically killed in his early 20s in a drive-by shooting. It comes extremely close to telling an interesting story about the measure of a man and the price of fame — close, but no cigar.

That said, there is a silver lining and that's the discovery of an artist named Jamal Woolard (also known as Gravy) who plays the title role. This relative unknown (in the acting community, he's a hip hop artist), who had zero acting experience before this production, delivers the kind of charismatic, slam-dunk performance only someone with a natural gift can deliver. His is a nuanced performance that manages to bring to earth the larger-than-life persona of Biggie with eerie accuracy. Physically, we rarely see an actor like this on the big screen and it's refreshing. Woolard uses his sympathetic eyes and giant body to convey the rapper's ability to draw people to him, despite how exasperating he could be.

Unfortunately, Woolard is the bright spot in this cookie-cutter biopic, which too often veers into sentimental and blandly conventional territory. To see the rest of my thoughts on why this is a bit disappointing,


First let's talk about the cloying sentimentality. As I watched this movie, I found myself getting lost in the fun of it — the nostalgia, the music, etc. — only to be jolted out of those good feelings by lines like, "You can't change the world until you change yourself." And they don't just say that line once, but multiple times. It's a hollow, after-school special-type cliche and doesn't ring true at all.

The movie is also awfully conventional. It is literally a play-by-play account of the rap star's life and falls short of giving the audience an interesting look at the guy. Instead it's a shallow tribute reel that shows the crappy stuff Biggie was guilty of (ditches his mom when she has cancer, is a deadbeat dad, sells crack to a pregnant lady, etc.) without any real consequence. In fact, he's completely redeemed in the easiest, most absurdly convenient endings I've ever witnessed. The movie even glosses over the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and chalks the whole episode up to Tupac's paranoia. There's hardly a moment in the film that isn't overly simplistic.

The rest of the cast does a commendable job portraying the notorious figures that surrounded B.I.G. throughout his life including Naturi Naughton as the pint-sized, naughty girl Kim and Derek Luke as Sean "Puffy" Combs (though I think if the real Puffy weren't involved with this movie we would have seen a much more interesting character onscreen).

The movie is at its best, though, when it gives its audience a little credit and instead of telling us through clunky dialogue what made Biggie so dynamic, it shows us. One of the best scenes comes when a just-signed Chris Wallace has to win over a rowdy college crowd and does so with his nihilistic anthem, "Party and Bullsh*t." It's a smart, visceral moment in the movie that helps you forgive the man his sins and feel thankful he graced us with his talent during the short time he was alive.

Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight Films

Join The Conversation
Sticker1 Sticker1 8 years
Yeah I think Caterpillar girl is living in a little insular world. I guess this is where all the hip hop authorities hang out.
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
Caterpillar Girl - I would like to know if you have actually listened to his music and lyrics? Yes there was violence in his lyrics but also a lot of innovation with his word play and flow. His style varied and he also did some pieces that spoke to people who were tired but felt that they had no other choices in life. The same question of relevance could be made about any slain musician or artist. It all depends on your personal tastes.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 8 years
I'd agree with that assesment, he did have a unique flow.
QueenB75 QueenB75 8 years
I'm with you pargie- Big was like the elvis of hip hop.
pargie pargie 8 years
I think Diddy capitalized off of Big's death, without Biggie I don't think Puff would be as big as he is matter what he parlayed his career into. Biggie's death was definitely not the end of Hip Hop, nor would I call his music gangsta rap. I think you guys have a skewed impression of his music. For most of growing up with hip hop in the 90s, Biggie's music was really mellow and smooth - he kept it real and he had a nice flow, that's why we loved him. I don't equate him with violence at all, even if some of his lyrics were violent. Most of my favorite biggie songs (and the songs that were played on the radio) were about his relationships and him going from "ashy to classy". Tupac was more about gangs and thug life. My disagreement with Caterpillar girl is that he still wouldn't be popular today, I think he would innovate and grow along with the industry just like Snoop does, and he has been around long before Biggie. He is a legend to the kids you see on BET, even though they didn't really grow up with his music, just like Elvis is to other doesn't mean they are mindless. He came from nothing and made it big..and the fact that he is Black and hustled most of his life before fame, kids are going to relate to that and respect that, and even glorify that to a degree...not saying that it is right, but that's what happens.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 8 years
Actually, I agree with CaterpillarGirl...I think Biggie's music and role in music is significant but for how long would he have been able to do the gangsta rap thing? He belongs in the timeline of Hip Hop but really a lot of his colleagues used his role to cement his legacy, their own and that time. But that doesn't mean we should take it as they play it. Goodness, I was watching BET and boy was that overhyped or what. The were taking emails from kids who said things like "I was four years old..." or, "six years old..." and talking about how their Dads would listen to the music or how they started to listen to it and how it affected them. BET hosts acknowledge that the people who watch the show or that were writing in might have been too young to be fans but they just want to keep going with the propoganda and promote the film too. It just sounded like a bunch of people who didn't know how to think for themselves, who have been endoctrinated, or really don't know anything else.... If anything you could say that Notorious BIG was the beginning and the END for Hip Hop as so many independent artists knew it. Diddy parlayed that death into a career for himself. Pargie you mention Diddy, granted he is truly a producer but he has created an image that he has been able to live off of, it's his livelihood. It doesn't mean it rings true or that's what marks success. He is always behind or beside other artists and rides the waves. I give him credit there because he is an excellent marketer and in that he has been successful but how does he compare to an Indie MC or a muscician. He is smart and has earned the money he has but I don't think he is a great supporting example for your arguement.
electricxbaby electricxbaby 8 years
I'm still undecided if I want to see this movie or not.
pargie pargie 8 years
CaterpillarGirl Biggie is considered one of the greatest rappers of all time, I doubt he would be forgotten by now if he was still alive. Look at P-Diddy now, and he was just his sidekick. That said, I don't think violence should be glorified, I haven't seen the movie so I don't know if it was or not. Yay for Naturi Naughton getting the role of Lil Kim, take that 3LW (who forced her out the group a few years back!).
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
I dont understand why they made a movie about this man, he would be forgotten at this point had he lived. i think its glorifying violence and a man who wasnt at all admirable.
Staceygirl Staceygirl 8 years
Thanks for the overview. I was debating seeing this tonight, but I think I'll see the Wrestler instead and Netflix this one.
MlleMLT MlleMLT 8 years
Love Biggie but not sure I want to see this. That chick in the picture does look like Faith too! Maybe I'll Redbox this one
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
I must say that I was kinda of excited to see this movie before all of the reviews. I honestly thought that this movie would give more insight into BIG's thought's and mind than everyone says it does. I am happy to see however that they did such a good job in casting some of the roles (however the choice of Angela Basset for Voletta Wallace still baffles me)
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