Its worst part is the very beginning: text and sound dictate the overall atmosphere and present the big social issue, and the first image is a direct response, “STOP”, damn, this could be a ridiculously simplistic thesis film, but that expectation fortunately does not materialize. The following sequence sets up the neighborhood almost as a separate universe, a jump back in time to a rundown city from an old western where progress became impossible and only outlaws could inhabit, full of signs with promises for the future covered with gunshots.
Far from Spike Lee’s showmanship in service of the cause, Boyz n the Hood is credible because nothing seems too manipulated and coming from a desire to shock, it’s such a detailed and grounded portrait of various aspects of the troubled community and the kids’ relationships that is hard to doubt it comes from real experience, and Singleton’s professed love for westerns is transparent in every shot, his sight is very calm for a place dominated by hostility and fear, which is exactly what makes it scary, the ordinariness of violence and lack of sensationalism in presenting all situations that lead to tragedy, that consistency of tension in every corner and every second of the movie he certainly inherited from the masters of the genre, there are only small outbursts of emotion and aggressive action, and they are always comprehensible.
Also, the occasional drifts into message dialogues never seem forced, but contextually coherent with the characters that deliver them, it’s difficult to think of heroes and villains, everyone is just trying to survive, there is no moralizing from an extraneous element that comes up only to tell us what we are seeing is or isn’t right (I am looking at 12 Years a Slave and its kind). At the end, the cruel theater spawned from memory fades away with a friend, but the image of the neighborhood stays unchanged, it finds unusual balance between the personal and the political and becomes one of the saddest coming-of-age pictures.