This is a compelling story of desire and self sacrifice for a young boy who strived to get himself out of the shadows of his own indignation. Under the advice and influence of many (for better or for worse) he made some very harsh decisions that revolutionized the rap industry from coast to coast.  It all begins with a young and oversized Christopher Wallace (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a typical kid growing up in Brooklyn, NYC.  The son of a single mother (Angela Bassett), a teacher in pursuit of a Master’s Degree, dreamed of growing up and being someone on his own terms.  However two events in his life would trigger something that would define him forever.  First he was mocked by a classmate who said that he was “too fat, too black, and too ugly” to be a rapper, and later a brief encounter with his biological father sparked an inner anger that made him find solace in writing rap songs as an emotional release.  Combined with his desire to better his current situation, the rising star found his catalyst.

It’s no secret at this point how it ends, or the shady circumstances by which it all ended.  But this movie focused more on the development of who was “Notorious B.I.G” the man.  It’s important to note that some of the major influences in his life, aside from his mother who tops the list, include known names like Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs (Derek Luke), Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton), Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), and Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie).  Any of them could have biographical movies made of their lives as well, but this was about Biggie. His story could not be told without including all of them for their contribution, directly or indirectly, to his success as a rap artist. They were the people that made him human in the face of all the lights and sound systems.  Aside from his mother, the only other “non-celebrity” that played an important role in his life was the woman known only as Jan (Julia Pace Mitchell),  the mother of his first child T’yanna (played by Denae Innis at the age of 3) and high school sweetheart.

Throughout the entire movie you could hear songs that were part of his early musical work. It played well early in the movie because the songs were underlined with a bit of anger and resentment, much like the young Christopher. As his life situations were changing, so did the music.  Towards the end we could see the young boy start making the transition into what his mother always wanted him to be, a man.  With his evolution, so came the desire to change his musical message.  The tone seemed less hostile, less violent.  After hearing of the shooting of Tupac Shakur, a onetime close friend now rival, it appeared that Wallace had an awakening that would define the rest of his career as an entertainer.  He was slowly maturing, but between an influential media and a very territorial fan base, this changed proved to be too little too late.

Directing
The director was George Tillman Jr., who has also produced and/or directed other very good movies like “Nothing like the Holidays”, “Roll Bounce”, “Barbershop (1 and 2)”, “Men of Honor”, and “Soul Food”.  In an inconspicuous way, these films embraced positive principles, without being self-righteous, or preachy. He stayed consistent in “Notorious”, however there were parts of the movie that should not have been included or could have been done differently. Depending on what you are expecting, some scenes may come across as forced, or don’t go as deep as it should, while other scenes add nothing to the story. The first 30 minutes shows Christopher’s interactions with his mother, but they weren’t nearly as gripping as they should have been. Angela Bassett, who played his mother Voletta, played the part with fierce resolve and anguish, and as a result outperformed the young Woolard.  The scenes seemed almost robotic and could have benefited from a more poignant approach; it lacked emotion at times.

In a later scene where she told him that she was sick, there was an expectation of greater emotion to emphasize the impact that this would have had on his life. Yet it was quickly thrown at you and then the movie went on with little reference to her condition or his reaction to it. Aside from that, the directing was pretty straight forward. The music throughout the movie really helped keep the flow of the story going.  If not for that it would have been hard to keep a viewers attention.

Acting
Jamal Woolard’s portrayal of Christopher Wallace was superb.  Having seen documentaries and interviews, Woolard captured Biggie Smalls right down to his mannerisms. Though the script early on didn’t help him, his stage presence and studio scenes were well done.

I would have liked to have seen more of Angela Bassett. She managed to carry the emotion on every scene that she was in, even when her counterparts couldn’t keep up.  She is a superb actress and merited a greater part considering how influential Voletta was to Christopher’s life. The rest of the cast portrayed their characters fairly well, in spite of the fact that I feel the script was designed to complement the main character. If you didn’t already know who Tupac, Lil Kim, or even Sean Combs, you would have viewed them differently than those who weren’t already fans.

Overall
I enjoyed the movie once it started to pick up speed.  The character development was lacking, so the first half was more an exercise in patience and fortitude.  That said, I would recommend this movie to anyone who knows who Biggie Smalls was or heard any of his tracks and enjoyed them. Otherwise, the story may come across as slightly boring early on, and stereotypical throughout.  If you have ever enjoyed a Notorious B.I.G. track, you’ll be able to associate the pain and anger to the story behind it.