Director John Singleton passed away last April at the age of 51. Nearly three decades earlier, he released the excellent Boyz N the Hood, just months after graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The film went on to gross $57.5 million at the American box office and brought worldwide attention to the lives and struggles of Los Angeles' young, inner-city residents. Singleton's film spotlighted a group of people rarely featured in the era's coming-of-age stories, and it also provided the perspective of the residents effected by a type of violence usually only discussed by outsiders. Featuring career-defining performances from Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube, Boyz N the Hood is Singleton's best film, and one whose themes and message resonate loudly nearly thirty years later.
The narrative, also written by Singleton, concerns three young men who grow up in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles, a post-World War II Japanese-American community that saw African-Americans become its majority in the early 1970s. James "Tre" Styles III (Desi Arnez Hines at age 10; Gooding Jr. as an adult) has a bad temper and begins doing poorly in school, causing his mother Reva (Angela Bassett) to ship him from Inglewood to Crenshaw, where Tre's father Jason "Furious" Styles (Fishburne) resides. Tre reconnects with friends Darrin "Doughboy" Baker (Baha Jackson at age 10; Ice Cube as an adult) and Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut), who live with their mother Brenda (Tyra Ferrell) in the neighborhood. Furious encourages Tre to keep his nose clean and join the military or go to college, as Doughboy begins heading toward his own criminal future. The action then jumps from 1984 to 1991, as Doughboy returns home from prison, mutual friend Chris (Redge Green) is now paralyzed from being shot, Ricky is a star high-school running back with a baby, and Tre courts Brandi (Nia Long), a devout Catholic who is not ready to have sex.
Singleton's film is powerful in that it is not episodic; this is a film you must watch uninterrupted from beginning to end to fully appreciate. Boyz N the Hood focuses on its characters and how they relate to each other during the decade-hopping narrative. Most important is that Singleton's film never glorifies any type of gangbanger lifestyle or the violence that riddled these communities in the early 1990s. The film shows viewers what it was like to live on these palm-tree lined streets and work in the stores and factories surrounding South Central. The film never judges its characters, it simply lenses powerful human experiences, based on Singleton's own, and highlights the challenges these young men face maturing and making decisions in this community. The film and its director where criticized upon its release by some who accused Boyz N the Hood of furthering violence. Singleton, in the on-disc supplements, responds to the concerns succinctly: this is just reality.
There are fantastic performances throughout the film: the caring, successful mother in Bassett's Reva; the brash, frustrated matriarch of Ferrell's Brenda; and Chestnut's Ricky, who earns his mother's affections when the idea of college scholarships is dangled at his doorstop. Gooding Jr. is also very good here, giving his character depth and emotion. The true standouts for me are Ice Cube and Fishburne. Anyone has thinks Ice Cube cannot act probably has not seen many of his better performances. His work as Doughboy is completely realistic and powerful, and his character arc is devastating. This is also likely Fishburne's best performance ever, and his restrained, pragmatic father figure keeps Tre from falling into the same traps as some of his neighborhood friends. As Boys N the Hood builds toward a violent climax, these characters grapple with decisions that are literally life and death. This is a powerful film made by a talented filmmaker gone too soon, and one that has more than earned its legacy.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Sony continues to excel in the 4K market, and now gives us an excellent native 4K 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image with HDR10 for Boyz N the Hood. I have friends less invested in physical media than myself, and I have often been asked about the true differences between DVD, Blu-ray, 4K, streaming, etc. This is the type of presentation I show folks who want to see how fantastic 4K can look for a standard, lower-budget, film-shot production. From the opening shots of Crenshaw, the image impresses with its depth, natural grain, texture and color reproduction. Close-ups reveal intimate facial features and object texture, wide shots are deep and clear, and the image looks fantastic in motion. The film grain appears completely natural, with only minor spikes in lower-lit scenes. Contrast is near-perfect, skin tones are natural, and black levels are inky, with excellent shadow detail. Further, the HDR pass has been done with restraint, and colors are lifelike, natural and perfectly saturated. At all times this 4K presentation surpasses the Blu-ray, particularly in terms of black levels, depth and color saturation.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is fantastic, and provides a completely immersive experience to match the excellent 4K image. There are plenty of ambient and action effects to warrant frequent sound pans and full sound field activation. Helicopter blades swirl around the surrounds; gunfire ricochets across the entire stage; and crowd chatter and weather elements encircle viewers. This mix certainly gives viewers a good sense of three-dimensional space and distance. Dialogue is crystal clear and never distorted; effects are perfectly balanced; and the soundtrack, with plenty of rap music selections, is weighty and appropriately layered. English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes and a host of 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are included, too.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and a digital copy code. The discs are packed in a standard 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The extras are spread across both discs. On the 4K disc you get a newly produced John Singleton Tribute (6:16/HD); a Press Conference (24:26/HD), in which the director addresses the media before the film's preview; Original Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (4:57/HD); and the Theatrical Trailer (2:36/HD). On the Blu-ray, which is the same as Sony's 2011 release, you get an Audio Commentary by Singleton; Friendly Fire: Making an Urban Legend (27:45/HD), with cast and crew interviews; The Enduring Significance of Boyz N the Hood (43:17/SD); Deleted Scenes (4:35/SD); Music Videos (9:00/SD); and Audition Videos (1:34/SD).
Sony again releases one of its classic films in an excellent 4K Ultra HD package. John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood is a powerfully resonant film with excellent performances, particularly from Laurence Fishburne, and examines life in South Central Los Angeles for several young black men. There are a couple of solid new and returning bonus features, and the 4K Ultra HD offers excellent picture and sound. Highly Recommended.