The talents of Tupac Shakur are on full display in Juice, a 1992 crime drama directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. The film is a gritty and energetic one, brimming with violence and a focus on the transformative power of the streets. It explores the nature of violence and the reality of living in an environment in which violence is inevitable.
Dickerson is probably best known for his frequent collaborations with Spike Lee, but his debut in the director’s chair is a good one. He’d go on to direct other flicks like Surviving the Game and the DMX vehicle Never Die Alone, so it’s safe to say that Juice is probably one of his best works.
Shakur stars as Bishop, one of four young men who call themselves “The Wrecking Crew.” They aren’t a gang per se, but they do roll around committing petty crimes. Bishop is highly concerned about his rep, though, and that leads him to want to escalate the Crew’s activities. Q (Omar Epps), Raheem (Khalil Kain) and Steel (Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins) are dragged along for the ride, but things start to fall apart when a robbery goes horribly wrong.
Q is forced to put his ambitions to be a DJ aside, while the other members of the Crew clash with Bishop and his increasing aggression. He is turning into a loose cannon; he doesn’t care about his life or anyone else’s.
Anyone who’s ever witnessed the transformation of a friend can relate to what Q, Raheem and Steel go through in observing the changing Bishop. The characters express of confusion when their pal goes off the rails. They aren’t sure how to respond; they don’t want to roll over on their childhood friend, but they also need to worry about their own lives and futures.
Much of Juice is about what respect means. For Bishop, respect can be stolen with a gun. Having that cold steel pressed against his palm gives him confidence, but he can’t wield it and ends up going too far. The violence that surrounds him closes in, too, and Bishop drowns in it after spending most of his young life on the edge.
Shakur does a remarkable job bringing the intense young man to life. He doesn’t glamourize his character, choosing instead to go the road of sadness. His eyes betray a lost soul and his words, delivered as they are with rapid-fire passion, suggest a young man afraid of what he’s becoming but too obsessed to relinquish control. It’s a compelling vision of a character.
Juice doesn’t celebrate the urban culture of violence. It doesn’t deify guns and it doesn’t make shootouts look hip with flying bullets and diving gunmen. Instead, it goes the road of making the violence real. It staggers and stuns, exploding out of the hands of young men who don’t think enough about their actions and, before long, give up control to the hopelessness of the streets.