Notorious (15)



Drama (2009)
123mins US

Starring: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith
Director: George Tillman Jr
Writer(s): Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

In the early hours of March 9, 1997, Christopher 'Biggie' Wallace aka rapper The Notorious B.I.G. left a Los Angeles club with his entourage, bound for their hotel. When the vehicles stopped at traffic lights, an unknown assailant opened fire in a drive-by shooting, spraying the car with bullets and fatally injuring the musician. His passing was the latest flashpoint in a fierce rivalry between east and west coast rappers including Tupac Shakur, who had died in a drive-by shooting in September the previous year. This biopic offers up reverent if not entirely affectionate portrait of the man, piecing together the rapper's formative years in Brooklyn in the mid '80s and his relationship with his mother Voletta.

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LondonNet Film Review
Notorious

In the early hours of March 9, 1997, Christopher 'Biggie' Wallace aka rapper The Notorious B.I.G. left a Los Angeles club with his entourage, bound for their hote...

Notorious. Fox UK FilmWhen the vehicles stopped at traffic lights, an unknown assailant opened fire in a drive-by shooting, spraying the car with bullets and fatally injuring the musician. His passing was the latest flashpoint in a fierce rivalry between east and west coast rappers including Tupac Shakur, who had died in a drive-by shooting in September the previous year. Some believe the murder was ordered in direct retaliation for the death of West Coast star Shakur. Others, including Nick Broomfield in his controversial documentary Biggie and Tupac, contend that hip-hop maven Suge Knight may have had a hand in the slaying. George Tillman Jr's overlong biopic doesn't draw any conclusions, offering up a reverent if not entirely affectionate portrait of the man, which leaves you wondering how many skeletons the scriptwriters left hanging in the closet.

The film opens on March 8, 1997, with Wallace (Jamal Woolard) and his friends partying hard, then flashes back to May 1983 to piece together the rapper's formative years. Despite the best efforts of his single mother Voletta (Angela Bassett) to raise him well, Christopher deals drugs on the streets and gets his girlfriend Jan (Mitchell) pregnant. "If you are carrying my seed, it means you are my world," he tells her tenderly. However, his music career takes off and he aligns himself with rising star Sean 'Puffy' Combs (Derek Luke), signing for Bad Boy Records. This in turn brings Christopher into the orbit of the volatile Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and singer Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), both of whom take him further away from Jan and baby daughter, T'Yanna. A feud ignites and Christopher aligns himself with his west coast brethren, including cousin and fellow rapper Lil' Cease (Marc John Jefferies), against Shakur (Anthony Mackie) and his posse. The war of words leads to blood on the streets until Voletta finds herself sitting in a funeral hearse, mourning the senseless death of her boy, aged just 24.

Notorious. Fox UK FilmNotorious was executive produced by Combs and he comes out of Tillman Jr's film positively glowing, like some guardian angel who risked everything for his friend. Real life rapper Woolard aka Gravy performs many of the songs in the film but when he can't rely on lyrics, he is not the most expressive performer. Moreover, he's unable to curry any sympathy for Christopher, who mistreats all of the women in his life, both eyes focused intently on his own fulfilment. Bassett works wonders with surprisingly little screen time. The era is recreated convincingly, with occasional news archive footage, including moving scenes of the people of Brooklyn singing to the heavens as the funeral procession winds through the crowded streets.

- Kim Hu


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