Notorious – Standard Biopic… With Rap

Notorious – Standard Biopic… With Rap

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  1. Like rap?  Like movies?  If your just said "yes" two times, then check out George Tillman Jr.’s 2009 biopic Notorious.  It was nominated for a couple BET awards, but wasn’t highly regarded by critics.  It stars Jamal Woolard in his acting debut but, more interestingly, features Christopher Jordan Wallace as the younger version of Biggie.  Figured out why that’s interesting yet?  Well, Biggie’s real name is Christopher Wallace… so the real life Biggie’s actual son played him as a teenager.  Crazy, right?

    What is it about?

    Notorious is your run-of-the mill biopic, but it does start at the end showing that Biggie gets shot in Los Angeles.  Before you start getting upset thinking that’s a spoiler, I hope you realize that Biggie got shot in real life.  Once it shows you the end, the film rewinds and starts out showing Chris as a young boy.

    The film quickly gets into Chris’s days of "hustlin" (selling dope) and when he begins rapping.  Once people realize how good of a rapper he is, he has to decide whether he is willing to give up his street life in order to pursue his dreams in the rap game.  After his best friend bites the metaphorical bullet and goes to jail instead of Chris, Chris finally gives up the hustle and is willing to do whatever it takes to get to the top.

    His journey to the top connects him with some famous people in the rap game:  Li’l Kim (Naturi Naughton), Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs (Derek Luke), and others.  He does become larger than life, but gets caught in the middle of the East/West rap wars.  Biggie is from Brooklyn and Tupac is from California.  This leads to a lot of violence and, as history has already shown, the deaths of both Biggie and Tupac.

    Is it any good?

    Notorious is good but not great.  It looks great and contains some great performances (especially from Jamal Woolard as Biggie), but won’t keep you on the edge of your seat or engrossed in the somewhat meandering story.  If it weren’t for the really great music (and flawless use of that music), then this film wouldn’t hold up.  The major problem is that it’s too long and doesn’t focus on the most interesting part of the story:  the friendship and subsequent war between Biggie and Tupac.  We barely get to know Tupac in the film and the relationship between him and Biggie barely gets explored as to how it got started or anything before it ends up being a negative thing that leads to the East/West rivalries.  

    The tough thing about casting this project is the fact that there are so many roles of real people that are still alive today.  The temptation would be to simply find someone that looks like the real person.  But it’s important to have strong actors playing these roles, too, because of the emotional moments they have to have with Biggie.  The standout performance is Derek Luke as Puffy.  He does a heck of an impersonation of P. Diddy/Puffy/Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/whatever he’s called these days.  If you watch P. Diddy play Sergio (basically himself) in 2010’s Get Him To The Greek, then watch Derek Luke play P. Diddy in Notorious, it’s amazing how spot on Luke’s performance is.

    Nolan’s Grade:  B-

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