Review: In "Notorious," a Legendary Rapper and His Mother Are Reunited

The Notorious B.I.G. biopic arrives in theaters today, only 11 years after the rapper's tragic shooting death on March 9, 1997. It begins with Biggie Smalls (played by rapper Jamal "Gravy" Woolard) and his life as a pre-teen in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn,
before he's quickly introduced into the life of drug dealing. An
unexpected pregnancy causes him to up the ante on the paramedical
sales, but then he's arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to
prison. When the incarcerated Big phones his mother, Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett), the two pray together, painting a touching portrait of their relationship.

After Big's release from prison, the movie's plot kicks into overdrive. The Notorious B.I.G.'s
brilliant rap career is documented, as is his burgeoning friendship
with 2Pac (Anthony Mackie). And yet pivotal moments are omitted. The celebrated performance by Big and
Pac together at Madison Square Garden in New York--from which vocals were
culled to create a track that many DJs still play--doesn't make it
onto the big screen. Even Lil Kim's relationship with Big is downplayed in the film.

What did make it into the movie, however, is treated exceptionally well
in the hands of director George Tillman, Jr. The infamous Quad Studio Shooting that served as
the separating point between Big and Pac was given added zeal in Notorious.
It's one thing to read about the account, where an ambushed Pac
irrationally claims Biggie and Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke) set him up after he arrives in the
studio bloodied by being shot in the lobby. And an entirely different
thing to behold.

Tillman, whose credits include Soul Food and Men of Honor, has spoken in numerous interviews about how the true test of the film will be whether Brooklyn likes it or not. (That's Brooklyn as in the entire borough--population 2.5 million-plus.)

Talk about pressure. Making a movie about a subject whose life is still fresh in the minds of many is no easy feat. The task becomes even more complicated when proper closure of said life hasn't even been achieved: the murder of Biggie still isn't solved. Notorious could have easily been told a number of different ways: by focusing more on the infamous Coastal Feud, or on Biggie's relationships with women, or on the rise of the Bad Boy Empire. Instead, it tells the story of a Brooklyn kid whose was beloved for his humor and and was the apple of his mother's eye.

Call it evil or unbelievable.

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