Written & directed by John Singleton
Release Date: July 12, 1991
Running Time; 1hr 52min
[There’s going to be plot spoilers in this review. Sure, it’s 30 years old now, and finding info on it is easy, but I still wanna give that bit of courtesy to anyone who might read this.]
A chronicle of the lives of three black teens in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Central Los Angelas. Tre Styles (Gooding), who was sent to live with his father, Furious (Fishburne) at age 10, after primarily living with his mother, Reva Devereaux (Bassett). He is intelligent, but sometimes his temper gets the better of him. He hopes to go to college with his girlfriend, Brandi (Long). Darren “Doughboy” Baker (Cube), drug dealer and member of the Crips, who’s been in and out jail. He is a good person at heart, but has his accepted his criminal place in life. Ricky Baker (Chestnut), Doughboy’s half brother, favored by their mother Brenda (Ferrell), with a live in girlfriend and infant son, who is the star running back at the local high school. Hopes to gain a sports scholarship to the University of Southern California. They also deal with the very real threat of gang violence and police brutality (sometimes by officers who are the same race as them).
The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. It then premiered in Los Angeles on July 2, 1991, and was theatrically released in the United States ten days later. The film became a critical and commercial success, praised for its emotional weight, acting, and writing. It earned $57.5 million in North America against a $6.5 million budget, and was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 64th Academy Awards, making Singleton the youngest person (at 24) and the first African-American to be nominated for Best Director. In 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
I first saw this on DVD when I was in high school (circa 2003 or 2004) and remember liking it a lot. It’s not an easy sit at times, but as one of the tag lines on the posters say, it ain’t no fairy tale. Some works of fiction aren’t meant to be an easy sit. It’s a movie that I’ve grown to appreciate more and more as I get older (I’m 33 at the time of writing this), and easily one of the best directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. It’s not the kind I can watch over and over, but it’s one I definitely revisit every so often. I’m not sure there’s much else I can really add to the many other reviews that praise this film. As any will point out, the performances are top notch, with most agreeing (myself included) that Ice Cube steals the movie as Doughboy. My second favorite performance goes to Laurence Fishburne without question! He’s always been an actor of incredible talent and presence. Still, there’s no denying the excellent work from Gooding and Chestnut. Honestly, I’m shocked there were no Academy Award nominations in the acting categories.
I will admit I didn’t like Brenda much because of how she treated Doughboy (scenes of them as kids show her being harsh to him as well), but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel sympathy for her when Ricky is murdered (that’s the power of great writing, combined with incredible performances). I would also be lying if I said I didn’t sympathize with Doughboy seeking revenge (and getting it) on the ones responsible for murdering his brother. I myself have brothers and sisters, and if any of them were murdered (or just harmed for no reason), I can’t say I wouldn’t want revenge. They’re not perfect (who is?), but they’re also not simply good or bad, they’re people doing what they can to survive a harsh world. They’ll fight and call each other names, but at the end of the day they’re there for each other. If you haven’t seen it yet, do. If you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another watch.
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