'Boyz n the Hood': THR's 1991 Review
On July 12, 1991, Columbia brought John Singleton's R-rated drama Boyz n the Hood to theaters, featuring Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
One in 21 black American males will be murdered at the hands of fellow black American males: That's the grim social frame of this turf-tough depiction of young black male survival in South Central Los Angeles. Written and directed by 23-year-old, first-time filmmaker John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood is a booming, heart slam of a film.
Receiving its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Boyz n the Hood is a knockdown assault on the senses, a joltingly sad story told with power, dignity and humor. No mere studio genre piece preening as social significance because its characters are black, Boyz is straight from the neighborhood — Singleton grew up in South Central — and straight from the heart.
As such, Boyz could cross cultural bounds for Columbia, something sensitive and responsible that Middle American white viewers may be curious to see. Black viewers, especially those fed up with being "New Jack"-ed around and not attuned to the marginal, eccentric outbursts of black voices in mainstream movies, should embrace this furiously gentle film.
In this raw-nerve piece, Singleton takes us to the darkest part of South Central, Crenshaw and Century, the meanest home streets of L.A., where only liquor stores and gun shops thrive as legitimate business. Focusing on the growth of one bright black boy, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), by tracing his growth from elementary school to his senior year in high school in 1991, Boyz is a portrait of minute-by-minute struggle as Tre must endure not only the common adolescent hangups but — this is where it really hits — keep from getting gunned down.
Raised by an upstanding disciplinarian father (Larry Fishburne), Tre's world is crushed down by copters from above, cokeheads across the street and criminal kids who would AK-47 him over nothing.
Tre's likeable friends are a diverse lot: Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a sincere and single-minded athlete who hopes football will carry him out of the "hood" a la Ricky Bell, and his hostile, gang-bang brother, Doughboy (Ice Cube), who has resigned himself to go down shooting, morbidly and realistically acknowledging that in this drive-by neighborhood he'll not last beyond his teens.
Singleton's weave of characters and his dramatic presentation is rich, coursed with the tension as well as the exhilaration of South Central teen life. While the film has its shortcomings — overwritten exposition, awkward camera setups — these flaws are mere flecks on a large and towering story frame.
The performances are knockdown terrific, led by Gooding as the smart and impressionable Tre and Fishburne as his steely, prideful father. Chestnut, as the ball-toting Ricky, and Ice Cube, as the porch-sitting slaggard, are similar standouts, while Angela Bassett conveys the love and anguish of a woman who gives up her child for the betterment of both.
Tech contributions, especially in the music area, are smoking: Among the sounds, Ice Cube's "How to Survive in South Central" raps it up perfectly. — Duane Byrge, originally published on May 15, 1991.