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Boyz N the Hood (1991) Review

31 03 2011

Copyright 1991 Columbia Pictures.

★ ★ ★ ★

I know I’m a little late on this one, but last night was the first time I have ever seen this film.  Honestly, it was a lot different then I had always imagined it to be; I thought it would be a glorification of gang life and filled with extreme violence.  However, much to my surprise and delight, this film actually takes an extremely strong stance against violence and hate in the streets.

Boyz N the Hood is the debut film of then 24-year-old writer/director John Singleton.  It follows the story of Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II, young; Cuba Gooding Jr., older) and his life as a teenager growing up in south central Los Angeles.  Styles, whose father (Lawrence Fishbourne) is a strict, yet caring man that works towards instilling good ideals in his young son, encounters many conflicts resulting from the rough and violent neighborhood he grows up in.  Determined to get out of Los Angeles, he tries his best to not get caught up in gang violence and petty theft like his friend and neighbor, Doughboy (Ice Cube).  Likewise, Doughboy’s brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a star high school football player, is trying to get out of the hood without involvement in the criminal activity surrounding.  In the end, some of the characters make it out and some end up spending the rest of their lives in the hood or die there on the streets.

I was impressed with the film overall, it highly exceeded my expectations.  In honesty, my background is about as far from south central L.A. as you could possibly get, so I was a bit concerned whether I could relate to the story before watching.  It turned out to be a solid, relatable story on a thematic level to almost anyone though I think.  No matter where you come from, most people have dealt with adversity and decisions they have to make to provide a better life for themselves.  Of course, most people’s adversity and life decisions aren’t as dramatic or impending as the ones that Tre has to make.

Outside of launching a career for director John Singleton, this film also helped launch the careers of many of the young African-American cast members including Gooding Jr., Ice Cube and Chestnut.  The entire cast was top notch in this film and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing these roles.  The direction and pacing throughout were very well handled, especially considering how young director Singleton was at the time of filming.  My only complaint is that the film bordered on being too preachy in several scenes.  In one scene in particular, Tre’s father, Furious, takes Tre and Ricky to Compton and gives a heavy handed lecture on gentrification.  It’s important information that Singleton was wanting to convey to the young audience, but it came across like an infomercial and didn’t really propel the story at all.  Outside of several instances like this, I felt the story overall was well balanced, entertaining and informative.

This landmark film in urban cinema basically created the blueprint for many films to come.  It was one of the most successful films commercially in 1991 making almost 10 times it’s budget at the box office.  In addition, it was critically well-regarded and garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for John Singleton.  The only thing that is a shame is that many young people have idolized the lifestyle of characters like Doughboy and tried to replicate that style in their own neighborhoods.  If you truly understand this film, you will know that this is the exact opposite response that Singleton wanted viewers to leave the theater with.  The final titles have the moral of the story spelled out for you – “Increase the Peace.”

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