First Hit: This wasn’t a compelling story as to why Chris Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggy Smalls) was so admired by rap fans. It seemed more to be a story about Sean “Puffy” Combs ability to make Chris famous.
It's hard to compare the two rap star oriented films I’ve seen; Eight Mile and this one Notorious. Eight Mile was a compelling the story of a man learning that transparency of one’s life and soul through his rap was his strength.
Notorious wanted to make a case for Chris being a real mover in the rap business while he matured and learned about life. However the films other characters, especially Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (Puffy), and Tupac Shakur kept drawing my attention away from this story with their own story.
I kept wondering how these other characters reach their success. There is no question about what Combs brought to the table by believing in B.I.G.’s talent, but B.I.G.’s tenure as a rapper was so short (Two Albums),
I left the film thinking that a good portion of his draw was based around the East Coast / West Coast rivalry not his talent or path. There isn’t enough history to make the case for greatness or a film.
The story basically sets us up by watching Chris getting caught in the draw of gold chains and “paper” (money) so he quits going to school to sell drugs on the street. As a side light, and a way to share his feelings and what he sees on the streets, he raps and in one scene bests the top street rapper. He ends up getting thrown in jail for dealing dope and comes out of prison hoping to find another way to make a living. He lays down a track that gets heard by Puffy who signs him.
Puffy becomes friends with Tupac Shakur. However Tupac is shot in the building where B.I.G. is recording and the East Coast / West Coast game is notched up a level. B.I.G., in hopes of changing the war, heads to LA for a Soul Train awards banquet and gets shot and killed.
I thought Jamal Woolard was good as The Notorious B.I.G. as was Angela Bassett as his mother Voletta. Other players were, at times strong including Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim and Julia Pace Mitchell as Jan. However, the story was inherently weak because there wasn’t a solid buildup as to why Biggy Smalls was so poplar or commanded the outpouring of fans (or this film) he commanded. The story kept getting split because it was Puff Daddy who was making the big lines at key moments (I.E. "You can’t change the world until you change yourself”) which Biggy repeats later.
Overall: This film didn’t have a big enough story to carry it though although Woolard did a fine job of capturing the public, and maybe private, Notorious B.I.G.