www.johnsingletonfilms.com THE FILMS OF JOHN SINGLETON

Poetic Justice

Poetic Justice poster After his powerful debut, Boyz N the Hood, I eagerly anticipated writer-director John Singleton's follow-up effort, Poetic Justice. Although it had been surrounded by bad advance word-of-mouth, most of which centered on Janet Jackson's lead performance, the dramatic trailer of the film displayed the emotional power and depth that had made Boyz so brilliant. In short, I was expecting Poetic Justice to be a moving drama with great emotional punch, which is not an outrageously high request, given the enormous talent of its writer-director.

Sadly, I left the theatre underwhelmed and only slightly moved. The film's first twenty minutes excellently set up the plight of Justice (Jackson), a hairdresser who turns to writing poetry to heal the pain left by the murder of her boyfriend. But all emotional weight disappears and the film becomes lighter than a feather when she goes on a journey from L.A. to Oakland with her best friend Iesha (Regina King); Iesha's mailman boyfriend, Chicago (Joe Torry); and his best friend, also a mailman, Lucky (Tupac Shakur), aboard their mail truck. After an initial hatred, Justice and Lucky begin to learn about each other, and Justice finds the strength in her soul to allow herself to love again.

The central romance in Justice is the best aspect of the film. Contrary to what other critics are saying, Jackson proves to be the best of the recent crop of singers-turned-actresses, more convincing and professional than Madonna and Whitney Houston combined. Her inexperience as an actress only shows in one emotional scene with Iesha where her tears look forced and phony. Jackson and the charismatic Shakur make an appealing couple you root for to get together.

The major flaw of the film is Singleton's screenplay. The characters of Chicago and Iesha are totally unnecessary; their incessant comic bickering is tiresome and serves only to take away valuable screen time from the far more interesting relationship between Justice and Lucky. The film would have been far more powerful if it focused solely on the two main characters.

From a visual standpoint, Singleton the director is in top form. Every scene is visually interesting, especially the striking opening twenty minutes. But his storyline is a bit confused. More attention seems to be paid to the relationship betwen Chicago and Iesha than the dramatic relationship between Justice and Lucky; a pivotal scene where Chicago hits Iesha is given more emotional weight than one where Justice must confront her conflicting feelings of love for Lucky and those of devotion to her dead boyfriend.

Poetic Justice isn't nearly the disaster other critics would leave you to believe, only a not-too-bad disappointment. It is a quiet, personal story that should have been louder, bolder, and even more personal, an interesting premise that isn't given its full justice.

--Review by Michael Dequina, July 1993

  • Poetic Justice @ The Internet Movie Database
  • Poetic Justice script

  • Janet and John on the set
    Jackson and Singleton on the Poetic Justice set

    Janet and John
    Jackson and Singleton, from the Poetic Justice press kit
    (Photo by Eli Reed)


    Images courtesy The Digital Journalist, Premiere, and Sony Pictures Entertainment
    The Films of John Singleton: Poetic Justice/text and page design © 1993, 1999, 2002 Michael Dequina
    All images are copyright their respective copyright holders and no rights are given or implied