Notorious – Review

Standard, sanitized biopic

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Director: George Tillman Jr.
Notable Cast:
Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie, Derek Luke, Anwan Glover, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith

The music biopic has become one of the more popular types of films come award season to the point where they were spoofed pretty brilliantly with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story recently. Into their ranks comes Notorious, yet another standard musician biopic that doesn’t give us much insight into the life and times of the Notorious B.I.G.

Chris Wallace (Jamal Woolard) released two of the most important hip-hop albums before he turned 25. He would’ve released more, one suspects, if he hadn’t been shot to death in one of music’s famous unsolved murders. While his death would propel Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs (Derek Luke) to superstardom and be the end of the East Coast-West Coast rap feud that centered his famed falling out with fellow deceased before 25 rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), his life was one of bad decisions in an otherwise good-natured existence. At least that’s what Notorious would like you to believe as this is perhaps the most sanitized a look at his life as could be. Considering Wallace’s real life son plays the young version of himself, and his family and Sean Combs are listed as producers, it’s no wonder why.

Woolard is an absolute find as the film’s headliner and the film’s success rests on his shoulders. A real life rapper who performs under the name “Gravy,” Woolard doesn’t merely play Wallace but inhabits his presence. A little stiff at times, Woolard does the iconic rapper justice with an incredible performance. While the resemblance isn’t as precise as it could be, after a minute or so of screen time he becomes Biggie Smalls. He shines during the moments where he has to rap, naturally, and many of B.I.G’s bigger hits come through wonderfully through Woolard’s lips. It may not be an award-winning performance, but it’s definitely one to keep an eye out on the young Woolard. He has charisma and a natural screen presence outside of his natural large size.

The problem is that the film doesn’t really offer us any new insight into his life, other than the tragedy that it ended when things began to turn around in his personal life. Nothing about his relationship with the two main women in his life, Lil Kim and his widow Faith Evans, is explored other than he loved them and cheated on both regularly. His relationship with Combs, whose mannerisms are captured dead on by Luke, is captured as one filled with slogans and catchphrases as opposed to any true meaning. It makes for a lackluster view of his life, a sanitized version of a unique human being who was never truly as good a human being as he’s been portrayed as.

You could summarize Wallace’s life as “everything is happy and wonderful until he dies, the end” while playing both of his albums and probably get the same perspective that Notorious provides. For fans of the man it’s a nice reminiscence on his life and music, but it doesn’t provide anything new or insightful.


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