By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Growing up in the same South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood, the lives of boyhood friends Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Doughboy (Ice Cube), and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) take drastically different directions. The film opens on the three at 10 years old, setting up the story, which takes off seven years later. Ricky (also Doughboy’s half-brother) is struggling in school, and at the age of 17 is already a father. However, he also is a strong football player, and is on the verge of an athletic scholarship. Doughboy, meanwhile, has just been released from juvenile hall, and is keen to return to life as a small time criminal, spending his time antagonizing rival gangs. Tre meanwhile has been kept on a short leash by his father Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), and is looking forward to college, while falling in love for the first time.
Hard as it might be for younger generations to believe, John Singleton was once the most promising young African American filmmaker in Hollywood. Of course, the John Singleton of today is best known for the box office bomb Abduction, a sawed-off Bourne Identity clone that might be the Taylor Lautneriest Taylor Lautner that ever Taylor Lautnered.
Disappointing as this may be, the fact is Boyz N the Hood is a bonafide classic of 90’s cinema, and if this remains the only great film he ever made, I can forgive (though not necessarily forget) his subsequent artistic transgressions.
Ok, so I’m still a little bitter over that one…
Boyz N the Hood was a trendsetter, followed by a whole slew of films set in South Central L.A. Few of these came even marginally close to equaling the realism and timelessness of the message on display here. At its core, BNTH is a fable about leading by example and overcoming your surroundings to succeed in life. Laurence Fishburne’s character is the heart and soul of the film. Furious was born and raised in this poor neighborhood and didn’t make the best decisions early on, but he got his act together and made a life for himself, becoming a mortgage loan officer, and building a nest egg to help send Tre to college. His life lessons that he bestows upon his son Tre, along with his authoritative style of parenting, forges Tre into an intelligent individual capable of making his own decisions, even when faced with the trying emotions of the teenage years. Tre’s friendship with Doughboy and others often leads him into trouble, but he is strong and smart enough to learn from them.
Can you guess who else could have learned that lesson?
On the other side, there is Doughboy’s story. Doughboy is not a bad person, but lacking any kind of father figure, and with a mother who dotes on her other son far more than him, he is left to fend for himself in the poisonous atmosphere of the ghetto. Director Singleton manages to avoid preachiness, while teaching a valuable lesson to viewers about taking responsibility for your actions in life. He also makes it clear that the problems of South-Central are more complex than just this, refusing to define it on simple good vs evil terms. This is embodied in the character of Ricky, who is coming close to bettering himself, but under risk due to the company he keeps. So many films from this time glamorized gang culture, whether intentionally or not. It is refreshing to look back on a film that spoke frankly and honestly on the subject, and wasn’t afraid to be blunt.
What the bumblefuck, Cuba?
Director Singleton has never done a better film, but there have been very few films on the subject to equal this. The story is solid, the pacing is perfect, and the acting is simply excellent.
Take a Drink: when you see someone drinking a 40
Take a Drink: whenever the movie gets depressing, only to take an even more depressing turn
Do a Shot: if you are old enough to remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. actually made decent movies
Seriously Cuba, you already starred in a far superior film on the same subject, stop it.