Straight Outta Compton, 2015.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.
Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr., Marlon Yates Jr. and Paul Giamatti.
The group NWA emerges from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
Billed as a biographical drama centered on revolutionary rap icons NWA, Straight Outta Compton succeeds in telling the rise and fall story, but it’s also a poignant and relevant film to our current state of society. Thanks to that depth, it actually becomes easy and safe to recommend this movie to anyone, whether they have a soft spot for this genre of music or not. You don’t need a working knowledge of gangster rap to come away with an understanding of the important racially charged social themes explored throughout the late 80s and early 90s that shockingly still exist today, and the brutally raw direction by F. Gary Gray ensures you will grow a great degree of appreciation for the artists.
First and foremost, this is a movie focused on Easy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre, depicting what triggered their fame, propelling them to a larger-than-life status that even they weren’t quite sure how to handle. It also contains riveting performances from a relatively unknown cast portraying these widely important musicians, most notably in the form of O’Shea Jackson Jr., the son of Ice Cube playing his father. Obviously this brings a heightened level of passion to the performance, but let it be known that the entire cast is a powerhouse in this one. The actors even resemble their real-life counterparts uncannily.
Veteran actor Paul Giamatti also plays an important role as the group’s music manager, and it should be noted that he too turns in a fantastic multi-layered performance. He’s a shady businessman that also gives off the impression that he does care about these oppressed African-American musicians. One of the most intense scenes of the movie comes when he is defending NWA from some rather unprofessional and abusive behavior from the police.
The depiction of these officers (ludicrously abusive both verbally and physically, including unwarranted usages of the N-word in a malicious manner) might come across as hilariously cartoonish to some, but bullshit must be called. This excessive treatment still exists today as evident from what happened to Sandra Bland this past month in America. You want to roll your eyes and shake your head at how these cops are conducting their business until reality kicks back into your mind, planting the notion that if it’s still happening today, this is damn well believable for 25 years ago. Especially in Compton.
For the first half of the whopping 147 minute running time, Straight Outta Compton dives headfirst into these racial relations and a raw illustration of the criminal dominated neighborhood, making for electrifying entertainment. The rise portion of this movie is unparalleled to most releases of 2015 thus far, but as situations grow more complex and the group drifts apart, the movie then has to juggle the three intertwining stories individually which makes for a bit of a mess. There is a mixture of some scenes feeling either important or rushed, alongside a lack of clear direction. Thankfully the movie does make a recovery leaving only around 20 minutes or so falling flat, but to be fair there are some awesome cameo portrayals of Snoop Dogg and Tupac during those moments.
The second half also seems to drop a great deal of social commentary in favor of exploring the betrayal and rivalries between the three pivotable members of NWA. Things like the Rodney King beatdown are touched upon, but Straight Outta Compton is definitely a tale of two movies where the first half unfortunately wins out in the end. There is however a fairly crowdpleasing ending that effectively showcases just how influential these rebellious rappers were not just to music, but life.
It’s also worth noting that the cinematography is fantastic, accurately showcasing the poor streets of Compton, luxurious mansions and parties when the group hits the big time, and an uproariously hilarious orgy scene impressively shot in one take tracking multiple characters.
Even though Straight Outta Compton occasionally stumbles over the weight of its own ambition, it’s impossible not to be drawn into this wickedly rough and harsh lifestyle that allowed vital voices of a generation to emerge. Passionately acted with ferocity, the story of NWA is one that is still relevant today, with everything they stood for permeating our culture.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook