Notorious (2009) Review

The issue with biopics is that in some cases, they will only appeal to a handful of people. The same can probably be said about all films, but for biopics in particular because it is a rare case that someone will want to know more about the individual’s life being put on film if they haven’t got some idea of who that person is and why they are interesting. I suppose you then have to make the judgement as to whether you are making the film for the general public or just for the fans who you know will flock to see it.

There are some exceptions. A sure-fire way to guarantee people see your film is to cast someone major in the lead role. That seemed to work with A Beautiful Mind, a film about mathematician with mental issues, because it starred Russell Crowe and was directed by Ron Howard. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been that bothered about seeing it. The same can be said for Sylvia, the biopic about Sylvia Plath, unfortunately I don’t believe they should have made that film, regardless of whether Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig star, but you can read my reasons for that in my review. Notorious, the biopic about rapper Notorious BIG, is a film worth making because there is a story to tell but as I was watching, couldn’t help thinking, “if you weren’t a fan, would you care?”

Casting a star is a sure-fire way to gain interest in a relatively specialist story.

Luckily, I used to be a fan. I grew up loving rap music and listening to all the artists featured in the film, from BIG himself to Tupac and Puff Daddy (as he’s named in the film). This is why I watched the film, with my interest peaked as to how they were going to tell the story of this great musician and his turbulent life. Due to the fact I used to be a fan (I’ve lost touch with rap music since) I knew a lot of the story, particularly the parts of the film that focused on the feud with Tupac that began and ended with a shooting.

The feud itself is a contentious issue, with a lot of differing reasons and theories behind it and it seemed like Notorious was blatantly taking the side of Notorious BIG. I’m British and was about 10-11 years old when the feud was actually taking place so it’s not like I actually have a side to take (though I do prefer Tupac’s music) but seeing as this was the most interesting part of the film, in my opinion, I kind of expected something more balanced. Instead we get a theory that Tupac was paranoid, over-reacting and BIG didn’t actually do anything wrong. It just felt a bit easy and a bit cheap.

The feud with Tupac should have been the backbone of this film

I think another reason it disappointed me so much was because this aspect, the feuding rappers, is the most interesting part of Notorious BIG’s story. The filmmakers could have very easily justified a whole film based on this story alone, going into a lot of detail about what happened, maybe portraying more than one, biased side to the story but this aspect of BIG’s life is only part of the film. That’s why I think that this film is for fans only because there isn’t anything amazing here. It kept my interest because I was a fan and already remotely interested but for the casual viewer, it won’t offer a story really worth telling.

Jamal Woolard does a great job of playing Chris Wallace, but the story is nothing really remarkable

The only film I could compare it too, that fits in the same sort of vein, is 8 Mile. 8 Mile is a very loose Eminem biopic, with him playing a version of himself in a story that resembles his life, but there is a lot more for the casual viewer in that film. It is an interesting underdog story with a very satisfying payoff at the end. Notorious never really gets that. It tells the story of Chris Wallace and how he became Notorious BIG very well. The actors playing each part, from BIG’s Mum to Tupac Shakur, are all excellently cast and do a brilliant job. It’s just that the story they are telling would only appeal to rap fans.

Overall, I’m not sure how to rate this film. If I was viewing it as a casual viewer who knew little of Notorious BIG’s life, in the same way I viewed A Beautiful Mind, I would have to say that the film is very average. The story won’t appeal to everyone but then should it? As a movie about a rap superstar, made for fans of his music and his story, it’s a brilliantly acted, excellently realised portrayal of his life, even if it’s biased towards Notorious BIG in places and not really telling an exceptional story.

Rating 2.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

The films excellently cast, including Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim

4 thoughts on “Notorious (2009) Review

  1. Even though I really liked his music this movie really was disappointing to me. Ended up giving it a 5. It’s been a bit too long since I’ve last seen it, so can’t remember exactly what it was that didn’t gel for me.

    1. I think 5 is probably a fair score. It is just a bit average. The performances managed to raise the score for me though.

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