Criterion Prediction #229: Boyz n the Hood, by Alexander Miller
Title: Boyz n the Hood
Director: John Singleton
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr, Angela Bassett, Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne
Synopsis: Despite being childhood friends, Tré Styles (Gooding) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) are on diverging paths in life. Doughboy’s falling into the oppressive criminal atmosphere, while Tré is torn between the straight path embodied by his stern but intelligent father Furious. Despite a supportive network from his father and friends, Tré faces trials and temptations in a climate of turmoil and violence.
Critique: John Singleton realizes a potent social and social commentary through a coming-of-age story handsomely mounted in the crime genre. Boyz n the Hood has the power of a message-heavy, neo-realist indie, yet there’s an inspired degree of technical cohesion and thematic clarity that John Singleton channels and it carries from the script, through the direction, and into the cast yielding an articulate vision rarely achieved in a feature debut. Operating with a malleable level of discipline without losing an ounce of familiarity, Boyz n the Hood wields an impactful narrative that unfolds with an unhurried pace. Our time-jumping introduction is peppered with brilliant asides. A young Tré and Darin (pre-Doughboy) walk into a crime scene; there’s this quiet sense of childish curiosity and humor, especially when Darin takes the time to flip the bird at a Reagan/Bush ’84 reelection poster that is riddled with bullet holes. Singleton presents us with a fully formed portrait but allows us to feel we’re more than spectators to the lives of his characters that feels folksy as well as gritty; they’re children and yet their innocence is lost so quickly it might as well have never existed.
John Singleton realized his personal experiences alongside a strident political commentary not only calibrates the pace and tone of the film but elevates its thematic poignancy. While some moments feel inflated, overdramatic, or moralistic – Laurence Fishburne’s speech about gentrification, the encounters with the racist cop – there’s a sincerity in their urgency regarding race, gentrification, and law enforcement. And, now, just as much as when this movie came out, every bit of Boyz n the Hood rings true.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The reasonably recent passing of John Singleton will likely result in a rejuvenated interest in the directors work, so it wouldn’t be uncommon for The Criterion Collection to pay tribute to the director’s memory by releasing one of his seminal movies. Plus, there’s an occasional resurgence of titles from Criterion’s Laserdisc library. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen sex, lies, and videotape, The Princess Bride, The Magnificent Ambersons, Shampoo, Some Like it Hot, and Polyester. Boyz n the Hood might be another relic from Criterion’s Laserdisc days, and we might see this one receive an upgrade.