In January of 1992 “Juice” hit theaters and in a about ninety minutes introduced the world-at-large to the acting talents of Tupac Shakur, established Ernest Dickerson as one of the most promising young filmmakers of his time, presented the grimy, pre-Giuliani “Rotten Apple” version of New York City to the rest of the country and created a perfect time capsule of early-90’s East Coast Hip-Hop.
“Juice” has not only stood the test of time but is held in the same esteem as “Boyz N The Hood” and “Menace II Society” as a classic representation of the period that also tells a timeless story. The story of Bishop, Q, Raheem and Steele getting pushed around and taking drastic measures to get some “juice” in their neighborhood could take place at nearly any point in history (the story resonates enough with young people that Soulja Boy was attempting to do a remake in 2011 … thankfully for everybody this didn’t happen), but Dickerson (Spike Lee’s former cinematographer) expertly captures the early 90’s NYC era to which the film is inextricably linked. From the classic soundtrack to the attention to detail in dialogue and wardrobe (bucket hats, Reebok Pumps, haircuts, etc.) the movie is simply the best long form time capsule of the era ever committed to film.
The movie captures Harlem at the height of the crack epidemic when the murder rate was at an all time high and NYC teenagers were viewed by the rest of the world as nihilistic, emotionless killing machines. This was the New York Jay-Z referenced in the line “The murder capital,where we murder for capital.” Where the movie really excels is putting stories behind the statistics and illustrating the thin line between being a productive citizen (Q) and a murderous psychopath (Bishop) and the decisions and circumstances that separate the two. In addition to having a compelling story the film is shot in a way that is almost magnetic in it’s ability to draw the viewer’s attention, the chase scenes are furious, the confrontations are intense and the club/DJ scenes are as good as anything in a big budget video. The acting is also first rate, in addition to casting 2pac in the career-defining role that would propel him to star in several other movies before his life was cut short in 1996 , “Juice” contains great performances by Omar Epps, Khalil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins in addition to early appearances by Oscar-caliber actors Queen Latifah and Samuel L. Jackson.
The movie’s authenticity is aided by a near perfect soundtrack. In addition to Hank Shocklee’s (of PE/Bomb Squad fame) compelling score the soundtrack not only offers some of the best music of early ’92, but also illustrates a unique time in Hip-Hop and in some ways was the changing of the guard from the 80’s to the 90’s. The soundtrack contains the last great tracks by golden era heroes Eric B. & Rakim (“Know The Ledge”) and Big Daddy Kane (“Nuff Respect”) and one of the last recorded performances of EPMD’s first run (“It’s Goin’ Down”). In addition to providing the last hurrah’s for some of the 80’s best it also provides an introduction to Naughty By Nature (“Uptown Anthem”), Cypress Hill (“Shoot ‘Em Up”) and of course 2pac, who would all go on to define the early 90’s.
Two decades after it’s theatrical release “Juice” remains as compelling as ever. With it’s gritty version of NYC, timeless story, thrilling cinematography, multiple career-defining performances and perfect soundtrack. “Juice” still has an incredible amount of Juice twenty years later.
-Angelo (Twitter: @Mr5thround)