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 mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
In the context of #BlackLivesMatter, F. Gary Gray’s triumphant Straight Outta Compton is more than simply a hip hop biopic. It’s a film of supreme importance, with an impressive awareness as to what should, and shouldn’t be said. Released at a time in which racial tensions are at their rockiest in recent memory, it’s a rallying call against police brutality and a system steeped in institutionalised racism.
Opening in disadvantaged Compton, we find Eric “Eazy-E” Wright peddling drugs while Andre “Dr Dre” Young spins records under the poems of O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. Between the three, they decide to create their own record label-Reckless-and in doing so, create Niggaz With Attitude/NWA. Enter Jerry Heller, played beautifully sleazy by the ever reliable Paul Giamatti, who seems to give them the chance to reach the mainstream.
While they’re riding high, the film falters, often falling into the messy clichés of music biopics gone before, revelling in their excessive life style, the alcohol, the women, the fast cars. But these moments never out stay their welcome. Of course, the sexual politics are debatable and debaucherous, there can only be so many shots of naked bodies before the viewer becomes acclimatised-but it’s not a film of misogyny. In any given party sequence-of which are only two-director Gray pulls focus away from the excess and attempts to find subtlety among the mess of bodies, booze and drugs.
Performances all round impress, O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his father the only way one can-brimming with angst and anger. Corey Hawkins, a spitting image of young Dre, is enigmatic while Jason Mitchell impresses most, carrying the tragic final third. To the great credit to all those involved, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the actors and the real life stars of N.W.A.
Not everything succeeds. Once Suge Knight enters, the film becomes bogged down in trying it’s very hardest to portray him as the arch-villain of the piece while the moment the group splits, focus is lost, dipping in and out of each member, never truly finding anything to say other than “aren’t they doing well.” The timeframe is also maybe too simplistic for it’s own good. The band go from small clubs to arenas within minutes, Cube becomes a family man and screenwriter overnight and Dre does as Dre does, being really, really successful. Moments with Tupac and Snoop Dogg feel gratuitous and almost silly although Keith Stanfield does play a mean Snoop.
A heart breaking final ten minutes is dampened slightly by a final speech that feels a tad unnecessary but these flaws can be easily ignored. Straight Outta Compton is more than just an advert for N.W.A (although do go out and buy Straight Outta Compton) it’s a triumphant, vital film, a rousing call to the masses. Fuck tha police.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★