by Winston "Stone" Ford
I remember back in the day, sitting at my high school cafeteria when some random dude came up to me and said the following:
“What side are you on? East Coast or West Coast?”
I was taken back by question. I went to a majority white school in Alabama, far removed from New York and LA. And even in this small Catholic school, people were obsessed with the media created circus that was thousands of miles away.
Naturally however, I chose the East Coast, not because I didn’t like the laid back tunes of the West, but because of the deep and lyrical rhymes of Biggie Smalls. There was a period when I listened to Ready to Die from start to finish, every night. The album was just perfect. It painted a picture of an overly complex man, who had constant thoughts of suicide and balanced the love of his mother with violence, sex, and drugs. Instead of the straight ahead gangsta rap of the West Coast, Biggie was a multidimensional storyteller, and one of the last rappers of his time to craft such a voice.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about his movie, Notorious. The movie is as by the numbers as they come. Every event is glossed over and oversimplified to the point that it becomes less like a biopic, and more like the screenwriters just pulled up Biggie’s Wikipeida page for writing ideas. The most poignant segments of the movie–Biggie’s childhood– were addressed in less than 20 minutes, which was a shame. Although the filmmakers showed Biggie’s strong connection with his mother, the film still lacked the depth of similar movies like 8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Tryin’–movies that focused extensively on domestic upbringings to give reasons why the main character is the person he is. If I were writing this screenplay, my whole motivation for writing would revolve around one simple question–what would encourage this dude to pen the track “Suicidal Thoughts?”
Notorious does none of that. I’m not saying its a bad movie–it entertaining and has its moments, which are spliced with equal parts drama and humor–but its not the movie that it could’ve been. The acting was adequate: Gravy does a so-so impression of BIG, but Derek Luke looks nothing like Puffy and I think I look more like Tupac than Anthony Mackie. Lil’ Kim (played by the beautiful and underrated Naturi Naughton) has a right to be mad–her parts come off almost as an afterthought, and Faith Evans’ role as the wifey/true love is played up more than what the truth might be.
The film’s more interesting segments revolved around the treatment of the East Coast/West coast beef, and more specifically the Biggie/Tupac fiasco. The movie played the feud as silly and over blown and portrayed Tupac and Biggie as best friends, with the rift in the relationship only coming when Tupac went paranoid when he was shot outside that Manhattan Studio in November 1994. Even though the flick did not pursue any blame or conspiracy theories, it does show Biggie receiving anonymous phone calls when he was on the West Coast, which sparked my interest.
All in all, Notorious is a decent flick that will appease fans and event spark interest in the late B.I.G.’s music from those who are unfamiliar with the rapper. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the depth that would make this a truly superior movie.
Have you seen the movie? What do y’all think?