For a debut film, 'Boyz n the Hood' is a powerful and admirable first effort. John Singleton's writing and direction is tightly focused on a single dominant impression while still exploring other complicated themes of urban life. He takes the "coming-of-age" archetype, seen for many years in the 1980s from only one cultural perspective, and sets it in the streets of Los Angeles. In effect, he reveals not only a particular youth experience often ignored in Hollywood, but also illustrates the violence prevalent in the city to be more problematic and complex than its stereotypical depictions. That there are real people living in those areas who are as genuinely concerned and distressed by the senseless violence as anyone else looking in from the outside.
The single common thread unifying the whole narrative is the frequent sounds of police sirens and helicopters, with intensely blinding searchlights mixed with the normal everyday activities of the neighborhood. It's a subtle motif which suggests violence has sadly become a common occurrence in urban life. And it goes even further by creating an atmosphere of imprisonment — that growing up in this area often leaves little hope of escape. One scene in particular demonstrates this feeling of beauty and humanity interrupted by the harsh reality taking place outside. Tré (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and his girlfriend, Brandi (Nia Long), sleep together for the first time. But a few minutes later, a police helicopter flies overhead and intrudes upon their quiet, tender moment.
It's understated themes such as this which give Singleton's film such emotional weight, quietly expressing a social concern for how kids become involved with street violence. The plot follows three boys who grow up together in South Central, but they are quite different from each other, especially in one importantly thematic area. Doughboy (Ice Cube) and his brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut) live with their somewhat distant mother (Tyra Ferrell) whereas Tré's intelligent and pragmatic father (Laurence Fishburne) is involved and personally invested in his upbringing. As the story unfolds, the presence of a male figure appears to weigh heavily on the boys' decision-making, where thanks to the moral guidance of his father, Tré overcomes his oppressive sense of inescapability.
In fact, Tré's father becomes the character who best verbalizes the film's other themes and concerns, especially in bringing attention to the issue of gentrification. Admittedly, that specific scene does feel a bit contrived and somewhat maudlin, but it serves its purpose in a drama about the circles of violence. And unfortunately, one of the sad repercussions of that circle is the loss of young kids with promising futures, that percentage of youth without any gang affiliation inevitably caught in another circle of "guilty by association." Fishburne's Furious Styles and Tré are also confronted with another threatening backlash within the community. He is the apathetic police officer who gladly wields the power afforded by his badge and even seems culturally biased against his own people.
'Boyz n the Hood' was the first film of its kind, exploring the complex issues which make up most of the urban violence. John Singleton does an excellent job as a first-time director and writer, carefully and terrifically balancing the many edifying scenes with an atmosphere of realism and speaking from direct experience. The film is also a first for bringing audience attention to the talents of several cast members, like Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nia Long, Regina King, Morris Chestnut and Angela Bassett. Standouts, in particular, are Laurence Fishburne and a surprisingly powerful performance from Ice Cube. Celebrating its 20-year anniversary, the urban drama remains just as impactful as when it originally hit theaters, an emotional coming of age tale set in South Central Los Angeles.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings John Singleton's 'Boyz n the Hood' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, housed in the blue eco-lite vortex keepcase. Once in the player, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
'Boyz n the Hood' comes to Blu-ray with a very good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1), which looks to be struck from a new high-def master.
A thin layer of film grain remains intact, giving the picture a nice cinematic appeal, though it's more pronounced during many interior and nighttime scenes. Contrast is spot-on and well-balanced with clean, bright whites throughout. Black levels are true and accurate, providing several moments of dimensionality, while small background details are never obscured by poor lighting and deep shadows. Though not as striking as newer releases, colors are clean of any artifacts and naturally rendered with accurate, healthy fleshtones. Clarity and resolution are a definite upgrade with plenty of distinctly defined lines in clothing and good lifelike textures in the faces of actors.
This is a strong high-def transfer for a great drama.
The audio is also a very welcome improvement over the DVD counterpart, providing a great deal of warmth and presence.
This dialogue-driven film delivers clear, precise vocals in the center of the screen, and imaging widens the rest of the soundstage with terrific balance and fidelity. Though not pushed extensively, the mid-range remains sharply detailed and accurate, giving the track an appreciable broad and spacious feel. Bass is not all that persuasive or demanding, but there's plenty of low-frequency to supply the lossless mix with some depth and personality. The big surprise comes from some unexpected rear activity which nicely enhances the soundfield with often realistic and somewhat immersive discrete effects of neighborhood noise.
All together, this is an excellent and rather surprising DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for a low-budget drama.
'Boyz n the Hood' arrives with the same set of bonus features as the two-disc anniversary edition from a few years ago, but also includes a couple new pieces.
John Singleton made his directorial debut with the urban drama 'Boyz n the Hood,' a powerful coming-of-age film about inner-city youth and the violence which engulfs their everyday lives. The movie also comes with a terrific performance by Laurence Fishburne and features the emotional debuts of Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good video transfer and an excellent audio presentation. Many of the supplements are ported over from a previous release, but there are also a couple new featurettes which fans will definitely appreciate, making this a highly recommended high-def edition of a great film.