Christopher Wallace was an overweight kid with oversized glasses, who grew up without a father in the middle of Brooklyn. He was perhaps the most unassuming potential rap phenom ever. Desperate to make some sort of living in the otherwise destitute ghetto, he turned to selling drugs. Soon he found himself making more money than he ever could have dreamed. It seemed like selling drugs was the only way to make it in the ghetto.
At home he had a loving mother. Like many young African-American women, she was burdened with raising her child alone. With all of the outside influences of the streets calling Christopher, his mother found it increasingly hard to keep track of what he was doing.
Besides selling drugs, Christopher Wallace had another talent. He could lay down a line of rhymes better than most. After his first rap battle with another local rapper, Christopher had finally found his calling.
After he meets up with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and signs a record deal Christopher becomes the one and only Notorious B.I.G. He is whisked off in a whirlwind of fame and fortune. He finds himself struggling with relationships, managing his own family, and in a feud with a west coast rapper by the name of Tupac.
Notorious is a straightforward biopic about this iconic rapper, but where it really excels is telling the actual, up-close-and-personal Christopher Wallace story instead of just glossing over the details and spending most of the time on the Tupac rivalry. We truly learn what kind of man he was. It’s up to us to figure if he was a good man or not. Even though the film was commissioned by Christopher’s mother, it still doesn’t leave out those things a mother may want to forget about her child.
The casting for the film is perfect. Jamal Woolard, an otherwise no-name actor, embodies Christopher Wallace and plays him to perfection. His eerily uncanny resemblance to the late Wallace only serves to give the film the exact authenticity it’s looking for. The young Christopher is actually played by Christopher Wallace’s surviving son. While only in the film for a few minutes, he’s the exact image of his father when he was a child.
Angela Bassett plays Voletta Wallace, Christopher’s mom. Angela was handpicked by the real Voletta to play her. She’s a stoic, unwavering force in the film, the true anchor in Christopher’s life that keeps him grounded even when he’s facing untold fortunes after he makes it big in the rap business.
Notorious is an inside look at one of the most well-known rappers of all time. It’s not glitzy or glamorous, but it is a true to life depiction of the one and only Notorious B.I.G.
Notorious is presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio. This 1080p transfer is as detailed and as colorful as they come. Filmed on location in Brooklyn, this high-def transfer really brings the city to life. The detail of the brickwork, pavement, and surrounding buildings makes you feel like you’re walking the streets of Brooklyn in 1983. Being the '80s, we are subjected to a lot of browns and dark oranges. These colors appear rich and clear every time. There are a few scenes featuring thick smoke that curls up through the air and hangs above the actors like a dense cloud. The rings and swirls of the smoke are completely defined and almost hypnotic to watch at times.
With its DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack Notorious is one of the easiest to critique. It presents the dialogue well and clearly through the front channels, but when it is called upon to perform during the concert scenes it becomes a force of bass beats that may rattle the walls. The deep bass from the hip-hop songs is the most enjoyable part of this soundtrack. Make sure you have your subwoofer cranked up. When the bass starts thumping you’ll feel like you’re front row at a rap concert.
The Special Features
The Notorious Blu-ray features both the theatrical version of the film and the director’s cut. The theatrical cut is 123 minutes, while the director’s cut is 129 minutes long. Because I never saw the film in theaters, and it doesn’t say anything on IMDB, I couldn’t tell you what the added footage actually is.
This Blu-ray is actually loaded with special features, but there are some highlights that you’ll definitely have to check out.
“Life After Death: The Making of Notorious” is a picture-in-picture feature that plays along with the film. The picture-in-picture segments take a look into the stories of the characters and information about the filming. You can also play these features alone with a play-all function in the menu.
“Behind the Scenes: The Making of Notorious” is a straightforward making of documentary, but it still has a lot of interesting information about the production of the film. Listening to the real Voletta Wallace talk about the film and her late son is sobering. She’s a confident lady, but she has the utmost respect for her son and what he accomplished. We get to see the casting for Notorious B.I.G. Hundreds of heavy, African-American men lined up to audition for the part, but when Voletta saw Jamal Woolard she knew that was her son.
“Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance” shows how the crew was able to closely replicate the concerts B.I.G. was famous for putting on. They had to go over tons of old concert footage to get it right and accurate.
There is a second disc, but it only contains the digital copy, in case you want to watch Notorious on the go.
Notorious is an insightful look into a man that was widely known for his music, but now can be known for who he was. It’s a beautiful, rich Blu-ray transfer that not only delivers visually, but has some stunning sound that will be hard not to get up and dance to.