We have reprinted this review from the August 1991 issue of Visual Parables because of a plot similarity in the current film, the delightful Barbershop: The Next Cut.
Rated R. Our content ratings (0-10): Violence-6; Language-8; Sex/Nudity-5.
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears …
Katharine Lee Bates’ song must seem like a joke to those trapped by racism and poverty in South Central Los Angeles, the setting for John Singleton’s film. Here the “spacious skies” are filled with the sounds of police helicopters constantly patrolling overhead or tracking down a culprit. This amazing film–especially for a first-time director only twenty-three years old–gives us a stark picture of what it is like growing up in a section of a city that is like Beirut or Belfast.
The story is of three teenage friends, Tre, raised by his divorced father, and two brothers, Ricky and Doughboy, whose single mother barely copes. Tre’s career-oriented mother had given him over to his father years before when she had found him unresponsive to her admonitions to do better in school. Furious Styles, Tre’s father, is a financial adviser, and a persuasive dispenser of advice to his son. He makes Tre memorize formulas for character development and toe the line at school. His strict, but loving discipline, stands in stark contrast to that in the home of Ricky and Doughboy. What little attention their mother offers is given solely to her favorite, Ricky. His hopes for a better life are pinned on his doing well on the SAT test and receiving an athletic scholarship to a college. Doughboy, the largest and toughest of the three, has give up any hope for the future. He has seen too many friends shot and killed. He is the one who, during a discussion with several friends in a parked car, states that he does not believe in God; how can there be with so much senseless violence and death all around them?
This remarkable film should be seen by whites as well as African Americans, for it not only shows what is happening to too many families trapped in our urban ghettos, but it also portrays a strong parent trying his best to keep his son on the right path. There are so many good scenes! Such as when the three friends are small and they go to view a dead body and then resume playing ball; no one thinks of calling the police. Or when teenage Tre gives in to momentary despair because his concentration on his homework is broken so often by the sound of near-by gun shots, police sirens and the roar of helicopters; rushing over to the home of his girl friend he seeks her embrace as he bursts into bitter tears of rage and frustration. Or big, tough Doughboy, the only one with presence of mind to get his youngest brother out of the room when the bloodied body of Ricky is brought home.
Teaching moments: Doughboy expressing his disbelief in God. Where is God in the South Central Los Angeleses of our land? Furious talking with his son: how do we pass on our dreams & values to our children? Ironic moment: which of the two cops seems more racist?