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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Retro Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Boyz N The Hood
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Angela Bassett
Genre: Hood Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $57 million 

Plot: The lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw Ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence and future prospects

'Critically Acclaimed Hood Hit That, To Me, Wasn't As Mind-Blowing As I'd Come To Expect'

A coming- of- age urban drama that is also hailed by many as one of the cinematic landmarks and synonymous in African-American film, John Singleton's 1991 Boyz N The Hood is relatively good but is hampered by the over-emotive stance Singleton chooses to opt for this film that also feels a tad TV-movie-ish and without making much of the hard-edged impact I wanted to get from and out of this film.

It's like part Stand By Me at multiple points,
 with 2 or 3 shoot-out scenes that is earnest throughout that later transcended many other movies of this type, but for a few exceptions.

Penned and directed by John Singleton himself, who was only 23 at the time back in 1991, Boyz N The Hood focuses on the trials and tribulations of three youths, with the ''Boyz'' seeking pastures new and further opportunities. Tre is a boy learning to become a man, Doughboy is an ex-con who is angry at his mother treating him differently to his brother, Ricky, a would-be (American) football player, who Tre has been keeping tabs on. Yet gangland violence, relationship problems and such start to have an adverse effect on Tre & his friends. 

Whilst this movie has been compared to Do The Right Thing a great deal, it has more in common and shares similarities to Dead Presidents in terms of its setting, consequences and context: Black youths living in the ghetto area & finding themselves into trouble involving gangs and guns, gentrification, drug-addiction, poverty struggles. I don't want all African-American movies to be about drug-dealing gang- bangers who wield guns and get involved with crime, - but having said that, for a movie about gang culture and being in the hood, this film lacks grit and interesting characterisations and punch to truly warrant a watchable movie for me. This is where Boyz N The Hood falls into this distinction and why I'd take the Hughes Bros, Dead Presidents over this offering. That film doesn't flinch, nor gloss over the ugly side of matters and goes all out in depicting the darker and grittier side of hood and gang culture that, to be frank, besides the hip-hop records and usage of the N & F-words, Boyz N The Hood doesn't go deep enough with & with a deeply engrossing narrative and character study of the central character. Boyz N The Hood has its moments for sure - and still, I don't get how and why this film has a higher IMDb score than Dead Presidents, - when that movie, I felt, went even more extreme and further down the deep end than Boyz N The Hood did with its similar themes. 

It feels pedantic and it does hit certain notes and social issues that's for sure; however, it just didn't manage to elevate itself any further beyond what John Singleton wanted to say and express. I also thought the handling of the childhood storyline with the 3 main characters as their younger selves was a tad too long and thus, it ate up too much time. 

Cuba Gooding Jr has never been better since Jerry Maguire and it is rather sad that his career since the huge success of this movie never propelled him into Hollywood's A-list crowd. But coupled with direct-to-DVD efforts in the 2000s put paid to that. Boyz N The Hood also sees the pairing of Lawrence Fishburne and Angela Bassett for the first time, and this was a partnership that was replicated in What's Love Got To Do With It?

Though I cannot see, nor doubt how big and how well it did at the box office and how timeless it still is today and that it resonated with Black audiences and audiences in general, (the film manages to find its feet towards the last hour/half hour) it just wasn't as ferocious as it sets itself up to be, profound or energetic enough. That and it veers somewhat towards TV movie territory, with its make-shift feel.

Final Verdict:

Boyz N The Hood is a super important contributor to African-American and Black cinema and in defining the success of Black movies from a financial perspective. Yet, though it is hailed as a powerful take on urban life, in fact, it just didn't go far enough and compared to Dead Presidents, it's not as shocking and hard-hitting, nor as powerful as I wanted it and expected it to be.  

It's funny this film was lauded as an extremely edgy and intense gangland drama - is this the same film we are talking about, exactly? 

I mean, I enjoy it, in parts, but if I had to choose between this film and Dead Presidents, which wasn't as widely received and yet it was far more critical, wider-reaching and potent in its execution and examination of themes that went beyond that of race, then I'd take the Hughes bros effort over John Singleton's. 

I guess in rewatching it today, I am just not in awe of Boyz N The Hood as many others are. 

It's a film, that despite its plaudits, manages to come across as frustratingly good, and yet it doesn't do much more to be exceedingly and emphatically great. 


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