Notorious (2009 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Tillman Jr.|
|Narrated by||Jamal Woolard|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Edited by||Dirk Westervelt|
|Distributed by||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Box office||$44.4 million|
Notorious is a 2009 American biographical drama film about the life and murder of Christopher Wallace, an American rapper better known by the stage name The Notorious B.I.G. The film was directed by George Tillman Jr. and starring Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie, was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures in North America on January 16, 2009.
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The film opens at a party in Los Angeles, California on March 9, 1997. Just as The Notorious B.I.G. is about to be killed in a drive-by shooting, the film flashes back to Biggie's childhood in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where he (now played by his biological son Christopher Wallace, Jr.) lived during his adolescent years as a good student but soon becomes drawn to money and jewelry and begins selling drugs. Christopher (now played by Jamal Woolard) sells drugs at the height of the crack epidemic, hustling with his friends D-Roc (Dennis L.A. White) and Lil' Cease (Marc John Jefferies).
When his girlfriend, Jan Jackson (Julia Pace Mitchell), informs him that she is pregnant, he begins to take his drug dealing more seriously, so he can make more money to support his upcoming child. Christopher eventually takes part in a rap battle, which he wins, but his mother, Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett), throws him out of the house after finding drugs underneath his bed and his absence from school for over three weeks.
Christopher gets caught in possession of weapons and cocaine, and is sentenced to two years in jail but only serves nine months before making bail. Christopher meets Kim Jones (Naturi Naughton) and they have sex but Kim refuses to pursue a relationship due to her abusive past. After reconciling with his mother and visiting his newborn child, Christopher records a demo called "Microphone Murderer" under the name Biggie Smalls, which catches the attention of Puffy, an ambitious producer for Uptown Records. Puffy promises Biggie a record deal but Biggie finds out that Puffy is no longer employed by Uptown Records, frustrating him. Soon after, Biggie and D-Roc are again caught with drugs, but D-Roc takes the fall for the both of them to allow Biggie to pursue his rap career.
Biggie becomes depressed when he finds out Voletta is suffering from breast cancer, but cheers up when Puffy signs him to Puffy's own record label, Bad Boy Records, and while there Biggie records his first album, Ready to Die. At a Bad Boy photo shoot, Biggie meets singer Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). The two begin a relationship, and eventually get married. However, Faith catches Biggie cheating on her at his hotel room. The two later reconcile but the tensions between him, Faith, Jan, and Kim continue to grow.
Biggie and rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) become friends while celebrating the release of his album Ready to Die. Biggie soon starts to admire the other rapper, but questions the nefarious people he is associated with. When Tupac is robbed and shot five times in the lobby of Quad Studios, he blames Puffy, Biggie, and Bad Boy Records for setting him up. At The Source Awards in 1995, Death Row Records executive, Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold), makes a speech dissing Puffy and Bad Boy Records, claiming that Death Row is the better label. A bonus scene follows Snoop Dogg (Anwan Glover) right after Knight's insult with his own infamous Source Awards speech.
After altercations between the two, the disagreement escalates into the media referring to an "East Coast-West Coast rivalry" and attacks are made on both sides. At the 1996 Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles, Biggie receives a death threat from an unknown caller. At the after party, Tupac and Suge verbally assault Biggie, but leave when Biggie's security threatens them with a pistol.
A track called "Who Shot Ya?" is later released by Biggie, which is interpreted as a diss song directed at Tupac. Biggie and Puffy claim that "Who Shot Ya?" was recorded before Tupac was shot, but Tupac responds with "Hit 'Em Up" where he disses Biggie and claims he had sexual relations with Faith. After seeing a magazine photo of Tupac and Faith hugging each other, Biggie confronts Faith but she insists nothing happened between her and Tupac.
The two attempt to reconcile after she tells him she's pregnant with his child. The rivalry between the east coast and west coast continues to escalate. At a concert in Sacramento, California, Biggie gets booed, and the crowd throws up West Coast signs to show their allegiance to Tupac and Death Row. Annoyed, Biggie performs "Who Shot Ya?", which enrages the crowd even more. The rivalry between the two rappers continues until September 1996, when Tupac is murdered in Las Vegas, Nevada. Voletta tells Biggie that Tupac was probably killed as a result of their rivalry, which shakes him up. Biggie attempts to ease the tensions in his life by visiting Jan and their daughter more often.
Biggie and D-Roc renew their friendship after D-Roc is released from prison and Biggie confides that he wants out of the rap game. However, Biggie decides to go to Los Angeles to promote his upcoming album Life After Death, bringing D-Roc and Lil' Cease with him along with Puffy and Faith. Whilst there, Biggie receives several more death threats. After calling Lil' Kim to apologize and arrange a meeting with her, he leaves the party. The film returns to the opening scene, where Biggie is shot and killed in a drive by.
His funeral is held a few days later, where friends and colleagues grieve, along with thousands of fans, who line the streets to pay their respects. A member of the crowd turns on a radio which plays Biggie's song "Hypnotize" and the crowd begins dancing as Biggie's casket is driven down the city's streets.
- Jamal Woolard as Christopher Wallace / The Notorious B.I.G.
- Christopher Wallace Jr. as young Christopher Wallace
- Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace
- Derek Luke as Sean Combs / Puff Daddy
- Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur
- Marc John Jefferies as Lil' Cease
- Naturi Naughton as Lil' Kim
- Antonique Smith as Faith Evans
- Kevin Phillips as Mark Pitts
- Julia Pace Mitchell as Jan Jackson
- Dennis L.A. White as Damion 'D-Roc' Butler
- Edwin Freeman as Mister Cee
- Valence Thomas as DJ 50 Grand
- Sean Ringgold as Suge Knight
- Anwan Glover (cameo) as Snoop Dogg
Antoine Fuqua was originally set to direct before director George Tillman, Jr. signed on to direct the project. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Producers on Notorious include Sean Combs, Voletta Wallace and Biggie's former managers Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts.
In early October 2007, open casting calls for the role of The Notorious B.I.G. began. Actors, rappers and members of the public all participated. Rapper Beanie Sigel auditioned for the role but was not picked. Eventually it was announced that rapper Jamal Woolard was cast as Biggie. Other cast members include Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace, Derek Luke as Sean Combs, Antonique Smith as Faith Evans, Naturi Naughton formerly of 3LW as Lil' Kim, Dennis L.A. White as D-Roc and Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur. An unknown actor also portrays Craig Mack in a scene as well. Principal photography began in March 2008.
A soundtrack album was released to accompany the film, although only eight of its tracks feature in the movie. The following tracks which Christopher Wallace Jr. had input on feature in the movie:
- "Born Again" (Intro)
- "Going Back to Cali"
- "Ten Crack Commandments"
- "Bed Stuy Brooklyn" (the film credits list this as the title, although the track appears on the soundtrack under the name "Guaranteed Raw")
- "Suicidal Thoughts"
- "Everyday Struggle"
- "It's a Demo" (the film credits list this as the title, although the track appears on the soundtrack under the name "Microphone Murderer")
- "Pimps & Macs"
- "Party and Bullshit"
- "Machine Gun Funk"
- "Flava in Ya Ear"
- "Big Poppa"
- "I Love the Dough"
- "Get Money"
- "Gimme the Loot"
- "Who Shot Ya?"
- "Sky's the Limit"
Notorious opened on January 16, 2009 in 1,638 venues. The film earned $20,497,596 in its first weekend, ranking fourth in the domestic box office behind newcomer Paul Blart: Mall Cop, holdover Gran Torino, and other newcomer My Bloody Valentine 3D. The film closed on April 2, having grossed $36,843,682 in the domestic box office (US/Canada) and $7,528,069 internationally for a worldwide total of $44,371,751.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 51%, based on 142 reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "A biopic that lacks the luster of its subject, Notorious is generic rise-and-fall fare that still functions as a primer for those less familiar with the work and life of the hip hop icon." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized score, the film has a score of 60 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Criticism by Lil' Kim
Lil' Kim was not happy about how she was portrayed in the film, saying "Regardless of the many lies in the movie and false portrayal of me to help carry a story line through, I will still continue to carry his legacy through my hard work and music." She felt the producers were more interested in her "character" than her. Lil' Kim scenes in the film contained a lot of nudity and sexuality. The film's producers, including Voletta Wallace, downplayed her comments. Purportedly, producers attempted to get Jones' input during production of the movie but she never returned calls. Producers went with stories from Wallace's friends of how she and Wallace met.
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- Kym Balthazar (February 26, 2007) 360 We Gon' Make It XXL. Accessed November 28, 2007.
- Director Selected for Biggie Biopic, Diddy to Executive Produce XXL (August 13, 2007). Accessed November 28, 2007.
- http://content.foxsearchlight.com/inside/node/2549 at Fox Searchlight Pictures. Retrieved on 2009-01-16.
- Melena Ryzik (October 8, 2007) Dreaming Big About Acting Big NY Times. Accessed November 28, 2007.
- Beanie Sigel Auditions for Role of Biggie Smalls in New Biopic XXL (October 3, 2007). Accessed November 28, 2007.
- Sean Kingston: Big, But Not B.I.G. Vibe (August 30, 2007). Accessed November 28, 2007.
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- Gravy for Biggie Joblo.com (March 6, 2008). Accessed March 6, 2008.
- "Weekend Box Office Results for January 16-18, 2009". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. January 19, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
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- TV Guide
- on YouTube