Biopic of the tragic life of Christopher Wallace, otherwise known as the American rapper Notorious BIG. Directed by George Tillman Jr, the story traces the life of Wallace (Jamal Woolard) as he fights his way up through the mean streets of Brooklyn, transforming himself in the space of a few years from a hustling nobody into one of the most influential rap artists of his generation. As his influence on hip hop grows, a fierce rivalry develops between his New York brand of rap and that of the Los Angeles-based rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), a feud that will have tragic consequences for all involved.
In music terms, Brooklyn’s Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace was a hip-hop superstar to rival Oakland’s Tupac Shakur. In movie terms, however, 2Pac has long overshadowed B.I.G. with the films he made as an actor and the documentaries that followed in the wake of his similarly-unsolved murder. George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men of Honor
) aims to correct that imbalance with Notorious
, the authorised biography of the larger-than-life New York rapper. Produced by his mother, Voletta Wallace (played by Angela Bassett), and record producer Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke), Tillman presents Biggie as a bright child who grew up to be a drug dealer before finding his true calling on stage, only to be cut down in the prime of life. In his feature-film debut, Jamal "Gravy" Woolard captures Biggie's complexity--the loyalty to his crew, the disloyalty to his ladies (including Lil' Kim and Faith Evans)--but struggles to make him as sympathetic as the figure that emerges in Nick Broomfield's Biggie & Tupac
, simply because the script relies too heavily on the usual musical-bio clichés. Fortunately, several bright spots elevate the scenario, such as Anthony Mackie as Pac, Christopher Wallace Jr. as young Biggie, and Woolard's rapping, which segues seamlessly into B.I.G.'s (the soundtrack mixes original tracks with remakes). If Notorious
isn't a failure, it isn't a triumph either, but Tillman has crafted it with love and respect, and only a stone could remain unmoved by the real-life funeral footage at the end. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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