Blu-ray 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:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date: 
July 19, 2011

“Something wrong?”

“Something wrong?  Yeah.  It’s just too bad you don’t know what it is.”

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, I’m having to deal with the fact that my response to the film is, and always has been, a very emotional one.  That’s 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 picture’s auteur was a 22 year old first time filmmaker.  I could point out that, looking back over the movie’s ten years of life, that it’s been one of the most influential films of those years, bringing movie audiences around the world into the troubled world of gangs and ghettos…cinema’s 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 it’s 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 I’ve ever seen.  I want to say that when I watch the movie, I don’t just shed a quiet tear but weep intensely.  I want to tell you that even after ten years, the movie’s power hasn’t diminished, nor has it’s 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 “gangsta rap”, 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, there’s 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 didn’t 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 Tre’s 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 Ricky’s 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 movies’ 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.

I’m being vague about the story, I know…but it’s not so much that I don’t want to give anything away; rather it’s that I could never tell the story as well as John Singleton did.  I don’t 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 Singleton’s 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 history…to date, he’s still 1) the only African American to be nominated for Best Director and 2) the youngest person to achieve that honor as well.  He’s gone on to bigger movies in terms of backing and budget, and done well, but I don’t know if he’ll 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 ***1/2

Some films do a remarkable job at capturing the feel of a place, and I think this high definition transfer has done nicely with Singleton's vision of Los Angeles.  The color schemes range from the warmth of the days to the cool of the nights, and the images come through with striking clarity and detail throughout, with only a touch of noticeable softness here and there.

Audio ***1/2

It's great to finally hear a full surround remix of this track, and I won't miss the original surround at all.  From the most tender spoken words to the terror of the gunfire, this DTS HD soundtrack delivers with dynamic range and potency.  The subwoofer helps the music pump along, and the surrounds will occasionally make plain how unsafe this world is.

Features ****

This disc features one of the year’s 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.

The remaining extras start with a brand new retrospective documentary “Friendly Fire”.  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.

Finally, new to Blu-ray, is a look at the film's enduring legacy.


My review has come to an end, and I don’t 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.  That’s 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.

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