Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Angela Bassett
Oscar Nominations: Best Director (John Singleton), Best Original Screenplay (John Singleton)
SUMMARY: In 1984, Tre Styles is a intelligent but troubled child who lives with his mother, Reva (Angela Bassett), in Inglewood, California. Tre and his mother have made an agreement that if he gets into trouble at school, he will go to live with his father; after this occurs, Reva follows through on the agreement, and takes him to his father in the Crenshaw area of South Central Los Angeles. There, Tre lives with his father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), who immediately begins teaching his son life lessons, both verbally and through work. Almost as soon as his mother leaves, Furious has Tre raking and bagging the leaves in the yard; he also makes him memorize three principles for being a leader instead of a follower. Soon after Tre’s arrival, Furious shoots at a burglar in the house, then calls the police. More than an hour after the call, two police officers arrive: one white and one black. To Tre’s surprise, the white one is civil and professional, but the black one is irate and derisive, and mocks Furious. Tre’s primary friends and playmates in the neighborhood are Darrin “Doughboy” Baker, his half-brother Ricky, and “Little” Chris. The day after the break-in, Chris takes the others to see a dead body. While there, they are confronted by a group of teenage Crips, who take Ricky’s prized football. Doughboy tries to physically take it back, but is vastly outsized. Although one of the gang members eventually gives the ball back, Doughboy decides to take out his frustration by robbing a store. Tre returns home and goes fishing with his father. Seven years later, the boys are in high school. Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is an excellent student, and holds down a steady job; Ricky (Morris Chestnut) is a star running back, being recruited by several major colleges (and has a young son with his live-in girlfriend); Doughboy (Ice Cube) is a Crip and has recently been released from jail; Chris is in a wheelchair from a gunshot wound. The group has also picked up two more people, Dooky and Monster, who are also Crips. While Tre and Ricky diligently attend school and try to stay out of trouble, the others spend most of their days on the front porch of Ricky and Doughboy’s mother’s house.
Ricky is being recruited by USC, and after a recruiter asks him what he is interested in studying, Furious takes him and Tre on a “field trip” to Compton. There, he explains that through drugs and alcohol, property values in black neighborhoods are decreasing, allowing developers to move in and take over; thus, although the vices are brought in by outside sources, black people are essentially killing off their own race. That night, all of the boys go to a street race, where Ricky gets into a dispute with Ferris, a member of the Bloods. Doughboy shows his gun, which drives the Bloods away, but Ferris breaks up the gathering with an automatic gun. On the way home, Tre and Ricky are pulled over by the same disrespectful black officer that came to the Styles house after the robbery. This deeply affects Tre, who confesses to his girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) that he is sick of the lifestyle and violence in the neighborhood. The next day, after fighting with Doughboy, Ricky and Tre go to the store. On the way home, they see Ferris and the other Bloods driving around, and cut through several yards to avoid them; they then split up to go the rest of the way. However, Ferris finds Ricky, and one of the men in the back seat shoots him several times, killing him in the street. Doughboy shows up with the other friends, having anticipated the shooting, and he and Tre take Ricky’s body back to the house. Doughboy’s mother, who has always favored Ricky, blames Doughboy for the shooting, and refuses to allow him to comfort her. When Tre returns home, he finds and loads Furious’ gun, but is stopped by his father before he can leave the house. Furious talks him out of taking revenge, only to find that Tre has gone through the window to join Doughboy. As the two, joined by Dooky and Monster, drive around looking for the Bloods, Tre abruptly tells Doughboy to let him out, then heads back home. Doughboy, Dooky and Monster continue driving, and find Ferris and his friends at a fast-food restaurant. Monster shoots at them, killing one and wounding two. Doughboy then personally shoots both of the wounded, including Ferris, at close range. The next morning, Doughboy comes over to Tre’s house, and tells him that he understands why Tre got out of the car. He knows that he will have to face the consequences of his actions, but regrets that he ever got into crime. In an epilogue, it is stated that Doughboy buried Ricky the next day, and was killed himself two weeks later. Tre went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, with his girlfriend Brandi at nearby Spelman College.
MY TAKE: Most people now know that life in the inner city is no cakewalk, but I think that this movie probably helped them see that. I would expect that the near-constant violence was a shock to many people. However, what struck me was the difference that having an involved father can make on a young man’s life. Even though Furious was only 17 when Tre was born, he is determined to be aman that his son can look up to, and to turn his son into a good man as well. As a result, he imposes strict but fair (and formative) rules: after hearing the various household chores he expected to take care of, Tre asks his father what he has to do. Furious responds that it is his job to pay for the house, food and clothing that Tre enjoys, ending the conversation. However, Furious also spends a lot of time with his son, and a genuinely close relationship develops between the two. Furious expects Tre to do well in school, and enforces this expectation: as a result, Tre easily gets into college. He also expects him to be responsible, both with his friends and his girlfriend, so Tre has never been arrested, and has no children. In fact, Tre’s mother routinely buys him gifts, which Furious disagrees with, telling her that Tre has a job and can buy things for himself. However, Tre’s mother also makes a good point: while Furious has done a good job teaching Tre to be a man, he has not done anything that thousands of women haven’t done over the years. The unfortunate thing is that this is true: you want to praise Furious for being such a good father, but he’s only fulfilling his natural role. Unfortunately, there are a lot of men who don’t do this, which makes Furious seem like a novelty. Ricky and Doughboy, and the other friends, provide a clear counterpart to this: they don’t have a father or male role model present, and you can see how that turned out. Doughboy was arrested at ten, and has been in prison by 17; he also dies at 17. Chris was paralyzed by a gunshot, and Dooky and Monster have nothing going for them. Ricky looks like he’s going to get out, but he already has one child, and doesn’t have the sense or control to stay clear of gang members (he should have kept his mouth shut when he bumped into Ferris at the race). The movie also highlighted to me the futility of violence, especially gang violence. One person slights or offends another, so instead of discussing or handling the problem, the offended party shoots and kills the first. Then, the friends of the killed party go out for revenge, and the vicious cycle goes on and on. Somebody bumped into somebody else at a race, and four people (five, if you count Doughboy, who was probably killed by the Bloods) wind up dead. It’s ridiculous.