The key to this movie for me, was the casting of Biggie Smalls. I had heard of how the script was being handled and from what little I knew of the Notorious B.I.G.'s life, I knew whomever would portray the looming presence of a modern poet, he would need to be able to convey that cool exterior of living the life of a superstar and still convey that he was haunted on the inside. Jamal Woolard (a virtual unknown) nails it down very well. Watch the scene where Biggie goes into that seedy bar and raps a little before deciding what his career should be, you'll notice Woolard knows how to throw his weight around and I quite literally mean his weight. There are moments where he takes up the frame as he rightfully should as his character was, to put it frankly, larger then life and even larger in death. The stare is also there. It's that stare that lets me know that "okay, he may look like the doughboy but I shouldn't fuck with him because he has power."
The movies holds nothing back when it comes to viewing Christopher Wallace's life style. He was at times nothing more than a thug. He lived at times his dangerous view of a life that would often come to bite him back in the ass in the worst of ways. And yet Biggie still has that twinkle in his eye that lets us all know that he 'can do it.' No matter how bad things will look, just wait a few scenes and we learn that C.J. has some other part of himself that will prevail.
But first let me backtrack. The film starts off with his death before rewinding to his youth where he got caught up in the "gangsta" life style despite the protection of his caring mother (Angela Bassett) and he soon hooks up with Sean Combs (Derek Luke) when he discovers his talent for mixing words together to create a deeper meaning (just listen to the Party and Bulls bit and how Biggie relates it all to nihilism). He uses these words to seduce one too many woman and before you know it, his life is complicated and things only get worse when a rivalry emerges with his former peer/friend Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). The only regret one can have about this movie is it struggles with showcasing hip-hop/rap culture at large and comparing and contrasting that with Biggie's life. George Tillman does a great job but there are times where he doesn't seem sure if he should let us know more information about certain incidents or just let us be with Biggie and see what he decides to make of them.
Either way, this proves to be a fascinating story about hope, change, redemption, and one man's way of doing all that for his own personal world, even if he doesn't always see it that way.