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BOYZ N THE HOOD
10th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Angela Bassett, Tyra Ferrell
Director:  John Singleton
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date:  September 2, 2003

ďSomething wrong?Ē

ďSomething wrong?  Yeah.  Itís just too bad you donít know what it is.Ē

Film ****

As a film writer, there are some movies I look very forward to writing about, and others I dread.  But perhaps for the first time in my career, I feel both at the same time.  Having never written about Boyz N the Hood before, I was eager to finally put thought to paper.  But at the same time, Iím having to deal with the fact that my response to the film is, and always has been, a very emotional one.  Thatís a lot harder to get down in print.

I could start by saying what a remarkable accomplishment it would have been for any artist, but stunningly so considering the pictureís auteur was a 22 year old first time filmmaker.  I could point out that, looking back over the movieís ten years of life, that itís been one of the most influential films of those years, bringing movie audiences around the world into the troubled world of gangs and ghettosÖcinemaís been going back and back ever since.

I could state something obvious, like this is an extremely important film for peoples of all races, creeds, colors, sexes or cultural backgrounds (it most definitely is), or that its message needs to be heard and pondered by all (it does).  I could say itís extraordinarily well written, directed, and acted (it is) or I could point out that it launched a lot of acting careers (Cuba Gooding Jr., Nia Long, Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut to name a few).

But what I really want to say is that this is one of the most devastatingly moving motion pictures Iíve ever seen.  I want to say that when I watch the movie, I donít just shed a quiet tear but weep intensely.  I want to tell you that even after ten years, the movieís power hasnít diminished, nor has itís message lost relevance, nor have I ever become desensitized against the emotional impact.  After having not seen the film in a few years, I watched it twice in the last two days, and still each time feels like a new revelation.

This is the movie that brought the world into South Central Los Angeles.  It was a place that had earned some cultural notoriety because of the emerging music style of ďgangsta rapĒ, and occasional reports on the national news about the continuing gang warfare waged every day on the streets, in the schools, and throughout the neighborhoods.

It was a world that John Singleton knew well, and when he says it gave him a story that he was born to tell, thereís no disputing it.  With a hard hitting screenplay under his arm, he brought his cameras into the places where he grew up, and opened our eyes to a way of life that most of us could have probably never imagined just a few years before.  It was a world where parents didnít have the luxury of worrying so much about whether their children made friends, got along in school, or were going to make something of their lives.  They were too busy worrying whether every time their child walked out the door he or she might never come back.

Singleton tells the semi-autobiographical story of Tre (played as an adult by Gooding), a bright but angry kid whose mother (Bassett) brings him to live with his father Furious (Fishburne) at a young age.  Furious is loving but strict.  His eyes are open to the world around him, and he knows Treís only chance of making it through alive and strong is to learn the hard lessons of life early.

In the hood, there are two paths set before young Tre.  One is represented by his best friend, Ricky (Chestnut), a football star with dreams of going to college and making a better life for himself, his girl, and his young son.  The other is represented by Rickyís half brother, Doughboy (Cube), hardened by experiences on the street and doomed to the kind of South Central existence that Tre wants to escape.  Surrounded by guns, gangs, unhelpful police, searchlights and helicopters, one feels that the avenues out of the hood are narrow indeed.

Furious is one of the moviesí great father figures, in my opinion.  He teaches Tre how to be a man without needing to pick up a weapon and joining the fracas.  But even he can only guide his son so far.  When a crucial moment explodes, Tre has to decide and decide fast the course of the rest of his life.

Iím being vague about the story, I knowÖbut itís not so much that I donít want to give anything away; rather itís that I could never tell the story as well as John Singleton did.  I donít think anybody can.  I fully agree with him:  he was born to make this movie.  And he and his destiny came together to leave an indelible stamp on modern cinema.

All of his actors are incredible in this movie, as though each realized what kind of statement they were making in front of the entire world, and it brought out an extra element of passion to go with the talent.  The sure handed veterans Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett are wonderfully solid, but its Singletonís young stars that make the biggest impression.  Cuba Gooding Jr. would go on in future years to claim an Oscar.  Nia Long, Regina King and Morris Chestnut continued to do good work as well.  But perhaps the biggest revelation was rapper Ice Cube, who showed the world something raw and special his first time in front of the camera.  His final, quiet scene with Tre is one of the most resounding and heartbreaking.

Singleton himself went on to make a little Oscar historyÖto date, heís still 1) the only African American to be nominated for Best Director and 2) the youngest person to achieve that honor as well.  Heís gone on to bigger movies in terms of backing and budget, and done well, but I donít know if heíll ever come close to the emotional purity and magic of Boyz N the Hood.  It was just a karmic case of the right artist with the right story at the right time.  He made his mark in history because of it.

Video ***

This is a solid anamorphic offering from Columbia Tri Star.  John Singletonís sunbathed streets of L. A. come across with warmth and integrity, with hot day colors leading nicely into cool night ones.  A few of the darker scenes are a bit softer, but nothing distracting.  The print is in good shape belying its ten year age as well.

Audio ***1/2

Though only two-channel surround, this is one of the better ones of those Iíve heard on DVD.  Singletonís use of sound is striking and important, and he keeps the rear channel busier with more necessary information than many directors do with six channels at their disposal.  The dynamic range is strong between the quiet, contemplative moments and the bursts of intense action.  Very high marks.

Features ****

Disc one features one of the yearís best commentary tracks, as Singleton generously opens up and shares thoughts and feelings about his first movie.  Aspiring filmmakers should definitely take notes, as he discusses the process of getting a project realized, how to make camera movement organic within a scene, how to make the most of outdoor shooting when the light time is limited, how to use sound to expand simple canvases, and more.  This is what all director commentaries should be like, and sadly, few of them really are.

Disc two contains the rest of the extras, starting with a brand new retrospective documentary ďFriendly FireĒ.  Singleton is back, along with many of his stars including Gooding Jr., Cube, Fishburne, Long and more, and members of his crew.  Their experiences in bringing the vision to the screen, filming on location, and the critical and audience responses are all here.

There are also two deleted scenes, including a chance to see Ice Cube share a sequence with Laurence Fishburne, a number of trailers for this and other films, two music videos, production notes and filmographies.

Summary:

My review has come to an end, and I donít know if I succeeded or not in expressing what I found so difficult to put into words.  Boyz N the Hood is an American masterpiece, and one of the most important films of the last quarter century.  Thatís the textbook analysis.  To go further requires first hand experience, and that experience is better shared with a knowing look and a handshake than with printed words and vocal descriptions.