Notorious (2009)

Notorious (2009)

Film review by: Witney Seibold




            It’s a good thing I went to see this film with my music-knowledgeable girlfriend, as she was able to point out just how accurate this film was to history, and all of the small quotations of song titles. My background in pop music doesn’t extend very far, and, seeing as I am not just a white guy, but extraordinarily white, my consumption of most hip-hop was relegated to what the cooler kids brought to parties, and not by anything active consumption on my part. Hence, the world and history of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. was alien to me. Here’s what George Tillman, Jr.’s biopic about Wallace taught me:


            Wallace was born in Brooklyn to a put-upon Jamaican mother (Angela Bassett). He was always a fat kid, and grew into a fat teenager where he realized that he was a particularly enterprising businessman, and took to selling drugs. At age 17 or so, he fathered his first child. He would jam with rivals on the streets, and learned he had a talent for rapping. He served some time in prison. Once he got out, he started to catch the eye of local music execs, particularly Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). Li’l Kim (Naturi Naughton) also became involved with him at one point. Wallace was a womanizer of the highest order and was constantly cheating on his wives and mistresses. His swagger started to get the better of him, leading to a rivalry with Los Angeles rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). This small rivalry, fueled and fostered by peers and executives, became an epic hatred between East Coast and West Coast rappers. Both Tupac and Biggie began to believe the gangsta lifestyle too much. Tupac was killed in Las Vegas 1996. The Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in the streets of Los Angeles in 1997. Most people believe that he was killed by associates of Shakur. He only released two albums in his life.


            “Notorious” is full of music, and Jamal Woolard, in the role of Wallace, really cuts deep into the clever and dirty and inimitable rapping of the big man in question. I don’t have either of The Notorious B.I.G.’s albums, but the film made me interested in checking them out. During the music and concert scenes, the film really comes to life. We see talented people putting on groundbreaking shows, and we actually manage to get a sense of why Biggie should be remembered and celebrated.




Sadly, that means all of the exposition in between the music feels perfunctory. Like most music biopics, the main character is little more than a collection of random vices (most often drugs, in this case rampant womanizing and pride), endlessly complimented by stoolies and execs, who will eventually come to ruin through his vices, and then redemption through his music. Snore. Maybe the flat acting had something to do with it. Maybe it was that the film expected audiences to already know a little something about Biggie going in. Either way, the film does feel clichéd.


            It’s not a bad film, mind you. It taught me a lot, and I was interested in hearing what it had to say. It depicted an important chapter in the rising wave of ‘90s hip-hop. As an historical document, it captures something.


            According to my girlfriend, Antonique Smith looks exactly like Faith Evans.


Antonique Smith as Faith Evans

Antonique Smith as Faith Evans



Faith Evans as Faith Evans

Faith Evans as Faith Evans

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. God allows many paths to redemption. Perhaps Christopher and I will have the chance thankfully speak of it.

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