Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Premise: A biopic of Christopher Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G., a rap artist who rose from the streets of Brooklyn to the heights of fame and fortune but was killed in an unsolved shooting.
What Works: The best biopics about artists and entertainers, like Capote, The Doors, or The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, usually show the relationship between the work and the creator, and how each impacts the other. Notorious also does this very well, spending a great deal of time on Christopher Wallace’s time as a youth, his drug dealing, and especially his relationship with his mother, Voletta Wallace, played by Angela Bassett. The close link between the music and what has happened, and what happens later in his life, gives the creation and performance of the music weight beyond just entertaining Notorious B.I.G. fans. This music serves an important story purpose and it is the axis around which the film rotates. Aside from Angela Bassett, who does a terrific job in the film, Notorious has a very strong performance by Jamal Woolard as Christopher Wallace. He captures the charisma and physical presence of the man but there is also an interesting vulnerability about him that makes this more than a tribute. Notorious manages to avoid one of the pitfalls of these kinds film; it never descends into hero worship. Wallace is portrayed as a man who had many failings, personal and professional, and the film allows for these failings while showing how Wallace grew as an artist and as a man, and the ending of the film wraps up the character study very nicely.
What Doesn’t: Notorious does not offer any answers or speculation on who shot Wallace or why. Some of the key characters to that murder mystery are kept at a distance in the story, namely Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) and Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold). Ultimately, there is another film about Christopher Wallace to be made, one that plays more like Hollywoodland.
DVD extras: Notorious is available in R-rated and unrated editions. The two-disc collector’s edition includes commentary tracks, featurettes, concert footage, and deleted scenes.
Bottom Line: Notorious is a well made film. It explores the life and work of Christopher Wallace and provides a study of the man and his music that should appeal not only to Notorious B.I.G. fans or fans of rap music, but to a wide variety of audiences.
Episode: #241 (May 31, 2009)