Directed by acclaimed cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson, Juice is a powerful tale of the violent corruption of disaffected, troubled youth.
Juice focuses on a young Harlem Street gang called The Wrecking Crew, who comprise of four members; Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Quincy AKA Q (Omar Epps), Raheem (Khalil Kain) and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins). They spend their days watching old gangsters movies like White Heat and shoplifting records from the local stores but despite all this are a likeable bunch.
Q dreams of being a DJ and after years of persistence has been accepted to compete in a mix competition that could change his life for the better, but the rest of the gang have other plans. Fed up of being downtrodden by the other bigger and more criminally orientated gangs of Harlem, Bishop decides it's time to hold up a local convenience store and earn some respect, or “juice”. Of course, the robbery is going to take place on the night of Q's DJ contest.
After relinquishing the offer to take part, Q finally succumbs to his friend's plan and takes part. Everything goes according to plan until Bishop accidentally shoots and kills the store owner, elevating the gang from simple shoplifters to murderers. The gang escape to a local derelict where they argue over what needs to be done and during a violent tussle, Bishop shoots and kills Raheem and threatens to do the same if Q and Steel rat him out to the police.
Now knowing that he holds power over the remaining members of the gang, Bishop decides that it's time he gets some more respect, whilst Q and Steel come to horrific conclusion that he power of killing has gotten to Bishop and he needs to be stopped.
Juice, whilst a very powerful film, is also pretty touching. The central characters aren't all bad and are just kids who get caught up in the violent tendencies of their surroundings. Early on the film we see Steel getting worried about Bishop and Raheem squabbling in his living room, not because he hates to see his friends fighting but because he's scared they'll ruin his mum's plastic wrapped furniture. Little touches like this add a lot to what could have just been a typical “small time crooks go big time” story.
There's a lot of a talent within the cast of Juice, which also includes smaller roles played by Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Badalucco and Queen Latifah. The Wrecking Crew themselves are brilliantly played and the crown jewel of the piece really has to be Tupac's portrayal of Bishop, who sets himself on the path of destruction. Whilst I loathe and detest the current crop of rappers turned actors, Tupac really has a talent for it and whilst his early death rocked the rap music scene I also can't help but feel like we may have also lost a great actor too.
Juice is a very rough and ready film, but it's a style that suits the setting and it's a better film for it. Dickerson, himself a cinematographer, isn't afraid to go hand held when he needs to and some of the action sequences are very well crafted without being overly glossy, a quality that Dickerson has brought to some of his current TV work like The Wire and The Walking Dead.
Overall, Juice is a great example of early 90's black cinema and whilst overlooked, it most definitely deserves it's place amongst the likes of Boys N The Hood and Menace 2 Society.
Juice is available on DVD for the first time in the UK through Second Sight from 3rd October.