Juice (1992)

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10

The script follows four friends from Harlem whose days consist of skipping school, hanging around, petty theft and occasional clashes with a Puerto Rican gang. The only member of the group with plans for the future is Q (Omar Epps), who is struggling to break into the local DJ scene and has an older girlfriend with an apartment and a job. The plot arises when Bishop (Tupac), a wannabe gangster, decides to buy a gun to rob a local convenience store. Kyu has a competition at the local club that night, but he has to respect his friends. As expected, the heist goes in the wrong direction…

Juice is slang for street respect and credibility, what young guys in the ghetto hope to achieve because they have no other alternatives, and it turns out that such aspirations usually give way to cold reality. Tupac was a real attraction and much of the credit for the popularity of this film goes to him, especially since he was killed four years after filming. Because of this, when viewed from today’s perspective, Juice is a true tribute to the real dangers faced by people like the one he portrayed.

This film is a true product of its time. It follows the daily activities of black boys in a neighborhood dominated by poverty and gangs, we see their relationships with families, enduring police harassment and conflicts with other groups. Social realism oozes out of every frame, and the happy and fast rhythms of rap music are somehow in a strange conflict with Bishop’s murderous nature and his schizophrenic actions, which pose a great threat to the once very harmonious group. Therefore, a key question arises – when every aspect of the environment is defined by a vortex of violence, is it possible for an individual to avoid it.

The story focuses on friendship and social issues, but it also shows us how hanging out with the wrong people can lead to unfathomable consequences. One of the important aspects of that story is that none of the characters are extremely good or extremely bad, as if their innocence and good-naturedness are in conflict with the bad environment in which they live. I especially liked the first third of the film, which is a bit longer preparation for the plot, but is a real retro-trip for those who like the culture, clothes or way of speaking from the nineties.

When I first saw this movie, I didn’t know it was Tupac’s first acting venture, but it left a very strong impression on me. This is especially related to the scene in which he offers words of comfort to the mother of the murdered boy, and it turns out that Tupak came to the audition for the role quite by accident. Although the script does not have the sophistication of films from that period like Boyz n The Hood, it offers an interesting social commentary on life in the ghetto of the early nineties, but it remains to be regretted that, say, in the hands of Spike Lee, it would all look much better.