Review of Notorious by George Tillman, Jr.

Review of Notorious written by Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Rock Bythewood and directed by George Tillman, Jr.
Rating ****

I'm not a fan of RAP or Hip Hop. Every now and then I'll hear something I like. For the most part, though, I'm a smooth jazz and country fan. I'm also a fan of good stories, and this story of the short life of rapper Christopher "Biggie" Wallace is a good one.

My introduction to this story was a recent documentary I watched but didn't review. The documentary was called Notorious: Bigger Than Life. I liked the documentary, but it was missing one major component. It had none of the rapper's music. I'm sure it had to do with rights issues; but watching a documentary about a performer without seeing any of his performances is like watching the movie Seabiscuit with all the race scenes having been cut. So I rented this movie to give me a better sense of what all the hype was about.

In many ways, this film is just another music biop along the lines of Walk The Line and Ray – two films I liked a great deal. It had many of the same elements: a difficult childhood, drugs, affairs, etc. But I would also say that the quality of this film was on par with those other two films. The acting, directing, cinematography, and writing were all top notch. Jamal Woolard, who portrayed Biggie and who was making his first film appearance, did a remarkable job. Much of the film was filmed on location, which lent authenticity to the story.

With any biop like this, the one thing that everyone wants to see is what this person was like before they made it big. It's the same draw as American Idol, only in the latter case you get to wittiness it as it's happening. In the case of Christopher Wallace, he was a low level drug dealer who grew up in a single parent household run by his mother Voletta Wallace played expertly by Angela Bassett. His only skill other than drug dealing was an ability to write and rap rhymes. One of the more amazing things about this story is that his quick rise to fame and fortune came about after just one album. He was murdered just as his second album was about to be released.

I'm all about pulling for the underdog. I like a success story as much as anyone, but I can't put rappers in the same league as musicians who write and compose their own material and struggle for years to make it. It's almost like all you have to do is come up with a clever nickname like say Little Kim or 50 Cent or Tupac and you're halfway there. Throw in some demeaning lyrics and you'll have your own crib in no time. Still you can't knock success. If it were that easy I'd put out a rap album. Maybe I'd call myself Fly Boy. That has a rapper sound to it, doesn't it?

But back to the film. In the end the filmmakers achieve their goal which is to portray real people and events in a fully believable manner. The tragedy of this story is the role the media played in dramatizing a rivalry that didn't exist.

The DVD had a number of extras and surprises. For example, I was surprised to learn that the boy who played Christopher Wallace as a child was his actual son. I was also surprised to learn that Voletta Wallace was as involved as she was in bringing this story to film. Besides a making of doc there were two audio commentaries. This disc belongs on my best of 2009 list.

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