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Before I Self Destruct (2009)

DVD Cover (Vivendi Visual Entertainment)
Genres:
Crime Drama, Docudrama, Urban Drama
Director:
50 Cent 50 Cent
Starring:
50 Cent 50 Cent
Clifton Powell Clifton Powell
Elijah Williams Elijah Williams
Sasha Del Valle Sasha Del Valle
Gabriel Ellis Gabriel Ellis

4.9 / 10 - Overall Rating

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A coming of age story about an inner-city youth raised by a hardworking single mother. When his dream of becoming a basketball player fails to materialize, he finds himself employed in a supermarket. After his mother is tragically gunned down, Clarence (played by Jackson) is consumed by revenge and takes up a life of crime in order to support his younger brother. --IMDb
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Review by Ginose
Added: December 11, 2009
I have a remarkable respect for Curtis Jackson (50-Cent, to any unfamiliar). Not because of his music, or his exploits prior to his professional career as a rapper/actor, but because, as much as I'm sure most of his naysayers will try to deny hit, he's a damned smart businessman.

Spanning from music to acting to a fucking vitamin-water franchise, he has proven, again and again, that he KNOWS how to make money, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind (especially after reading the strategy book "The 50th Law", co-written with Robert Greene) that he will continue to grow and prosper in damned near anything he's got his fingers in.

Other than expanding his "talents" onto the screen in both a semi-autobiographical tale, a... eh... war "drama", and many other minor appearances, it appears that he has now readied to try his hand at directing. Now, I was looking forward to this because it meant one of two things: 1.) (The more likely of the two) He'd make an atrocious film, like so many musicians before him, and we'd only have to see his face ON the camera, rather than hearing/seeing his ventures behind it and realizing that all musicians should be shot before they start, or 2.) He'd make a damned fine film and prove, once again, that he is a giant of the entertainment industry and will not be stopped, so we'd all better start buying our G-Unit line clothing and do-rags before it becomes the mandatory wear of lord Fiddy's new utopia.

Well, fuck me, because, for a first time director working on a moderate to low budget film to be more of an accompanying piece to his new studio album, he actually did pretty damned well.

The story stars Jackson as Clarence, a former basketball player (with dreams of turning pro before an injury that we've seen 60 or 1000 times) who is faced with his mother's death (as an incidental victim in a drive-by shooting, which we've seen 60 or 1000 times before) and is stuck with a rent he can't pay, and a genius brother, for whom he must protect and watch-over as best he can. This, of course, leads to him becoming an enforcer, replacing the man who killed his mother (whom he, of course, blew-away in a fit of rage) as the gun for a local "insurance" salesman, sweeping him down the tedious, dangerous and horrid life of crime that we've seen so many times... or does it?

Truth be told, the plot of this film is actually somewhat remarkable; it starts off like any other coming-of-age urban-drama about a good boy turned criminal and then... it doesn't. How can I put this... alright, this, my friends, is the first instance I've EVER seen, of the criminal-life that actually portrays it as accurately as it could be. Clarence never gets into hard-drugs. Clarence never goes into the horrible circle of blood-for-blood with another gang. Clarence just lives low-key, acting professional and making his money. Truth is, all of the films like this before this always try to give a message that is only RARELY true, and this depicts a pretty sure instance of a criminal who's not an idiot, and actually excels in life because of this. He gets a nice home, cares for his brother (who pretty much presses into the most far-fetched aspect of this film) and lives life fairly fruitfully. It doesn't try to glorify the lifestyle, but it certainly doesn't try to demonize it, like damned near EVERY one before it. This makes the film a very unique experience that deserves a look. I'll say that, plain and simple.

This practicality of a plot, however, is also really watered-down by some of the fantastically unrealistic things and events that happen between characters all throughout; do I think it's possible for a thirteen year-old to become a college freshman? Sure. Is it likely? No. Hell no. I don't care what kind of conviction and drive a kid has; some of these plot-points (and I call them thus VERY lightly are just unbelievable. It's not like that's the only instance of it, either, but it's still a shame from one of the first believable crime-stories I've seen in quite a while.

On the technical side of things, this one isn't really lacking, either. Jackson plays himself, fairly well, as do most of the smaller parts (i.e. everyone else), but it's really hard to tell when it feels like he rushed through the shoot only to realize he needed to film some exposition so, with no dialogue, he just got the cast together and filmed himself awkwardly letting them all ad lib to get the point across. Simple and effective, yes, but VERY sloppy, disappointingly so, I must say. It makes him break character, at times, and even makes a few other actors just sit about and let it all happen, looking as confused and lost as Fiddy looks flustered. A large mark I'm going to nip at is Elijah Williams' performance, not that I think it was awful, but DAMN the direction left him just saying his lines most of the time, so this is more a draw against 50-Cent than it is him, he, with a bit more material to work with, could be great young actor (as I'm hoping he'll be in the upcoming sequel, especially since he's to be the main character), but so little scene-direction and, from what I can tell, a very compressed shooting time leaves him looking confused and rushed most of the time, stripping away the bits and pieces of immersion that this movie gives us, and, as few as those are, that's damned important. Still, the effects are nice, the pacing is good (even with a good chunk of filler scenes towards the end) and the soundtrack is to be noted (duh), so it at least feels like a production ahead of its budget.

As much as I was looking forward to reviewing this film, I wasn't expecting it to be anything like this, for better or worse. Instead of getting a great or awful film, I'm left with a good one. A film that I enjoyed and would recommend to fans of the genre(s), if just for the change of pace it provides in the swamp of similar films over the years.

It's not a terribly deep or absorbing piece, but it is an enjoyable film with a lot of heart and extremely competent direction from a man who is, more than likely, going to push forward in the field, just as he has so many before it.

I greatly look forward to its sequel and anything else Jackson has lined up. 8/10.
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