The rise in African American filmmakers, stories and performers had taken a dramatic upturn in the mid 1980s, though when Spike Lee made Do The Right Thing, the pronouncement seemed to be clear: there was a whole group of people whose stories were simply not being told. Whether Lee told this story as a way to break the barrier or not I don't know, and whether John Singleton was inspired to write a screenplay called Boyz N The Hood based on this exclusion I don't know, but it was clear after the film was made that it both films had introduced many to the modern African American life and permanently changed the cinematic landscape.
Singleton directed the film that told the story of three boys growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr., Daddy Day Camp), was a hotheaded youth living with his Dad (Laurence Fishburne, Apocalypse Now), who was keeping him grounded and focused on providing for his son. His two friends lived across the street, where Ricky (Morris Chestnut, The Game Plan) was an aspiring football player and his brother Doughboy (Ice Cube, First Sunday) was immersed in the gangs of L.A. The story focuses on them living in Los Angeles, being subjected to police harassment, getting into fights, sometimes with violent results, while the parents do what they can to maintain the family structure in the hopes that they can get their children out of the
The striking thing about the film is just how well Singleton manages to show us how the boys grow up. He does it in such an unflinching manner that if you haven't seen this type of behavior before, it is jarring. In one sequence, Trey is thrown on the hood of a police car and threatened by a policeman, and the camera's focus remains on Gooding virtually the entire time, with a single tear welling up and rolling down his face. His reaction is ours to a degree, we're stunned and angered that this is happening to people minding their own business. The fact that Gooding managed to harness this emotion through the film as he did (particularly at the end of the film) was amazing.
All of the performances are solid for that matter. Chestnut portrays Ricky as someone who is trying to handle what could possibly be future athletic stardom combined with the rigors of living in the community as much as he can. But in a rather muted way, you can tell that Ricky's been given a lot based on his ability to run with a football. He gets to do quite a bit of what he wants, including fathering a child while still in high school. On the flip side, his brother gets the brunt of the punishment. Doughboy is arrested as a kid (and likely more than that in the seven year flash forward from childhood to young adult) and lives hard and violent. He seemingly refuses rational discussion at times for the sake of flashing a pistol to almost trump an argument. Ice Cube had been known for his tough exterior as a member of the rap group N.W.A., but there is an underlying fatalism within his performance that makes it striking. Cube had seen a lot to that point, translating that into the Doughboy character gave the character (and Cube himself) a humanity that many people had not seen before.
It is these types of revelations and surprises that have continued to amaze us since the film was released. Boyz N The Hood helped Hollywood realize there was a wealth of either untapped or underappreciated talent in America's inner cities. After Singleton, directors like Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray and the Hughes Brothers have risen to prominence. Gooding went onto win an Oscar several years later for Jerry Maguire, and young actors like Jaime Foxx, Taraji Henson and Don Cheadle have emerged as formidable actors in the years since Boyz blew up.
And that is probably why Boyz N The Hood is more memorable for me. It was without a doubt a wakeup call to many people to see how outrageous living in conditions like that were (and are to this day, with The Wire and Treme helping to illustrate this in recent years), and while that exposure was welcomed (and long overdue), the residual benefit the film has given us in that period may be the thing that Lee and Singleton are most remembered for.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Sony rolls out Boyz N The Hood in an AVC encoded 1.85:1 high-definition presentation that revitalizes the film, or at least does what it can to do so. Flesh tones are replicated accurately and black levels are strong through most of the film. As this was Singleton's first big film, don't expect a lot of visual wizardry. Image detail is lacking a bit in the foreground and background and film grain is present over much of the disc, with the latter being nice to see. I forgot how the film looked through the years and while it's not going to wow anyone anytime soon, is definitely worth upgrading over the standard definition disc.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does get a chance to stretch its legs out from time to time on the score and on the background noise, but past providing a low-end oomph to a bullet hit or two, there's not much that it's asked to do. Dialogue is firmly balanced in the center channel though there is some adjustment required as the feature goes. Channel panning is present, albeit scarce in areas, and directional effects are also rare, so there isn't too much immersion when watching the feature. Considering the production values this is a straightforward replication of a modestly-shot film.
Most of the extras from the 2003 Anniversary Edition have been brought over to the Blu-ray, with one exception. A new feature titled "The Enduring Significance of Boyz N The Hood" (27:45) includes the first impressions of the story by the cast and crew, mixed in with some nice on-set stills from filming. The cast discusses what it was like to work on the set and the legacy of the film, both from critical and popular perspectives. It loses a bit of steam around the halfway mark (and proves to be a bit redundant with the subsequent extras), but is a nice inclusion. The other supplements remain the same: Singleton's commentary is quite fascinating as he discusses where he was at the time he wrote the film and what inspired him to write it, along with his ideas for visual and story concepts. There are some gaps of silence where he watches the film, but listening to him recall the production and the real-life experiences that eventually were included in the film are compelling to listen to, to say nothing about his experience as a director on his first major studio film. "Friendly Fire: Making Of An Urban Legend" (43:17) is a retrospective look at the production, albeit the one from the AE disc, though it includes more information as to how Singleton's script got made and some journalistic appreciation from writers in the piece. There is more detail as to how the cast was secured for the film and even a deleted scene or two, and between this and the new feature, this one is the superior one. Two deleted scenes (4:25) follow, along with two music videos (9:00) and audition videos (1:34) for the main cast of the film.
Boyz N The Hood remains much-appreciated for the impact it has had on audiences during and since its release, and its larger impact since has been a breath of fresh air into big studios' decision making. Those who have the Anniversary Edition disc may be better suited to hold onto their discs (you're only paying for a decent transfer and new documentary), but for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to check the film out.