REVIEW: Notorious (2009)


Tupac Shakur already had his (excellent) big-screen film about his life, Tupac: Resurrection, nine years after his death in 2003; however, it’s taken nearly thirteen years for his greatest rival, The Notorious B.I.G. (AKA Biggie Smalls, AKA Christopher Wallace), to finally get his.


Considering that I’ve always been a fan of both rappers, I had a desire to see this film the moment it came out, but there was always a certain amount of pessimism that resided in my mind which held me back.


I wasn’t sure exactly why this was at the time. Perhaps it could’ve been down to Sean “Puffy” Combs been on board as one of the executive producers, who had been issuing as much posthumous music of his late friend as he could and profiting greatly from it? Or could it have been due to the fact that the film came out a little too late, in that most of Biggie’s life (and death) had already been exploited in various YouTube clips and documentaries all over the Internet? Whatever the reason, I delayed seeing Notorious until a night ago (about a year or so after its release in cinemas).


The recurring thought that I found within my mind throughout a majority of film’s running time was it felt too much like a parody of the rapper’s life, rather than a supposed tribute.


Was that because of the amount of media coverage surrounding his death and the whole East Coast/West Coast thing at the time? Maybe. But being that this is not a documentary, like Tupac Resurrection was, and instead a biopic (where actors and non-actors fit the roles of the people in question), it is very easy to create caricatures when attempting to portray larger-than-life personalities.


The blame should be shared equally between the actors and screenwriters. Whilst Jamal Woolard looks and plays the part of Biggie very well, and Angela Bassett arguably steals the show as his tough-loving mother, it is the depictions of Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), Sean Combs (Derek Luke), Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Tupac (Anthony Mackie), especially, that seem so ludicrously overblown here.


There’s also way too many scenes involving re-enactments of Biggie’s music. While these aren’t particularly bad, and it’s understandable to see why they were included (Biggie’s life was music, after all), it is the frequency of them that makes the storytelling seem really inept overall. There’s a couple of lines of dialogue, a song, a few more lines, another song, and so on and so on. This is frustrating as it doesn’t leave room for the film to dissect Mr Wallace’s life as much as we would’ve wanted.


The West Coast/East Coast feud, especially, which resulted in the murders of Biggie and Tupac, is passed over with seemingly little interest here (despite the huge amount of mystery that still surrounds it). And while there are some interesting moments — Biggie’s relationship with Lil’ Kim, which has always been a touchy subject, is covered; as is the much-speculated “diss” ‘Who Shot Ya?’, which is re-enacted in front of a live crowd — they’re few and fair between.


Notorious isn’t an awful film, but it’s hardly a worthy tribute to one of Hip-hop’s biggest icons. My suggestion would be to check out Nick Broomfield’s documentary, Biggie & Tupac, which, even though primarily concerned with Biggie’s death, manages to provide a much more fascinating insight into the life of one of Hip-hop’s biggest talents.




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