www.johnsingletonfilms.com THE FILMS OF JOHN SINGLETON

Boyz N the Hood

Boyz N the Hood one-sheetI remember being thunderstruck when I first saw the then-23-year-old Singleton's Boyz N the Hood the summer of 1991, and nearly eight years later, the film still packs a tremendous wallop. It is an uncommonly accomplished and mature filmmaking debut, one that has and will continue to stand the test of time.

The film is, at its heart, a basic coming-of-age story, but it had what was a fresh perspective at the time. At the center is Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a teen caught between the steady, forceful guidance of his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne, still billed here as "Larry"); and the inescapable violence of his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. The setting and story basics have become rather commonplace in cinema, but Boyz is the original, paving the way for the entire "gangsta"/"hood" genre.

But Boyz's triumph did and does not lie solely in its setting and perspective. That aside, it is simply a brilliantly crafted work, a film full of memorable individual moments of power. The first moments that spring to mind when I think of Boyz are two intense sequences that come at opposite ends of the film: an early scene where an intruder breaks into Furious and Tre's home, culminating in a bravura shot that starts with a glimpse of Furious inside the house then pulls away through a large bullet hole in the front door; and a late scene where Tre seeks violent vengeance against an enemy as his father sits stonefaced at home.

As striking as these and other individual moments in the film are, even more indelible are their assembled impact. While a modest film, Boyz tells an emotionally sweeping, true-to-life story, which can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that much of the film derived from Singleton's real-life experiences. He populates the film with sympathetic, recognizably human characters: in addition to Tre and Furious, Tre's best friend Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a high school football star; Ricky's gangsta brother Doughboy (Ice Cube); Tre's girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long); and Tre's successful mother Reva (Angela Bassett).

As one can see, Singleton displayed a keen casting instinct right from the outset, assembling an ensemble whose members mostly went on to bigger things. Bassett and the rechristened "Laurence" Fishburne would re-team in 1993's What's Love Got to Do with It and garner a matching pair of Academy Award nominations in the process. Gooding won his Oscar category, Best Supporting Actor, for his movie-stealing turn in 1996's Jerry Maguire, in which he co-starred with another Boyz cast member, Regina King, who currently has a thriving film career herself. Ice Cube picked up a healthy film acting career to go with his recording career following his debut in Boyz (though he has yet to approach the heights of his performance here). Long went on to co-star in two of 1997's best films, the hit Soul Food and the underappreciated love jones.

Of course, the most notable career launched by Boyz is Singleton's, and his work here earned him much-deserved Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director--becoming the first African-American and the youngest person to be nominated for the latter honor. While his subsequent efforts have not approached the critical and popular acclaim of this landmark debut, they are similar to Boyz in the sense that they clearly reflect a distinctive cinematic voice that, while not completely successful in every outing, never fails to be interesting.

--Review by Michael Dequina, January 6, 1999

  • Boyz N the Hood @ The Internet Movie Database

  • John on the Boyz set
    Singleton on the set of Boyz
    (Photo by D Stevens/DSI)


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