Straight Outta Compton
F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton is a complex biopic, detailing the lives of popular rap group N.W.A. in a way that sheds new light on the men behind the music and the movement that changed the world. The film's performances are remarkably authentic, while the script attempts to tackle many issues in one big swoop. Straight Outta Compton isn't perfect, but it does a fine job balancing an emotional story that's both informative and captivating.
F. Gary Gray‘s Straight Outta Compton is a remarkably dense biopic that not only tells the controversial rise and fall story of the rap group N.W.A., but also successfully captures the importance of the group as a movement in America and the definition of freedom of speech. Straight Outta Compton doesn’t just glorify a group of rags-to-riches rappers — it humanizes them and shares their struggles in a way that connects with audiences that don’t even know who they are.
Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) formed one of the most controversial and influential rap groups of all time known as N.W.A.
Straight Outta Compton isn’t just about their rise to the top and eventual falling out, but their impact on society and the culture around them when they were just hoping to move a few people in their small neighborhoods and speak up and out against the heated violence between unjust police and African Americans.
Those that think Straight Outta Compton is simply a film about a rap group that they have no interest in will want to rethink their opinions, because the film is about so much more, just as N.W.A. was when they hit the scene in the late 80s/early 90s.
Their music may not be for everyone, but their message is. Whether you agree with their lyrics or not is besides the point, because their music — just like the film, is about expression.
It’s about the freedom of speech and how that power can bring change and justice despite stereotypes about music or the color of the skin of the people that are making said music.
Director F. Gary Gray gets that completely and brings that to the front-lines in Straight Outta Compton.
The film wisely starts its focus on one of the group’s most controversial songs titled Fuck Tha Police and it smartly shows just how powerful and dangerous having a voice is.
Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre get most of the film’s spotlight, with MC Ren and DJ Yella mostly stepping to the shadows, which isn’t all that much of a surprise and that’s fine, because Gray constructs a complex drama around the three characters in a way that feels heartfelt at times.
Eazy-E’s story is the most complete, with a rooted beginning, a heightened middle and a sad end that plays out tragically, but truthfully. Watching Gray approach Eazy’s mentality is amusing, with E almost always trying to be ahead of the game only to find out that the game has long passed him.
Jason Mitchell‘s performance as E is just as electrifying and explosive as the real-life star, with Mitchell giving E a lot of heart and soul mixed in with his usual “don’t give a fuck” attitude towards the world.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. is almost too perfect playing his father Ice Cube looking almost identical. He also brings that same raw talent as a musician that’s not afraid to rap about the injustice in his own world around him, while also attacking right back with an uncensored dose of hard truth.
The shortest stick of the core three performances rests with Corey Hawkins‘ Dr. Dre. Dre is perhaps the hardest character to crack, because the film spends a lot of time trying to balance his love with music with his inability to make the right choices and learn to stick up for himself.
It’s a weird problem too, because the film’s back end spends far too much time worrying about Dre’s struggles after E’s passing.
That’s when Straight Outta Compton starts to become undone, once E passes and Paul Giamatti‘s Jerry Heller exits. Jerry is the man that helped get N.W.A. out of their neighborhood and into the ears of the world, but his story comes with a slimy aftertaste that can be seen from a mile away.
There’s also the almost useless inclusion of Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) who practically plays the most obvious of bad guys. Knight simply smokes a cigar and shoots up a mean mug at anyone that even dares to stare at him and his moments in the film feel like simple advancements to a greater story. Of course he was a key element in the N.W.A. drama and he had to be in the film, but he’s barely a living and breathing character in a film that’s already full of too many agendas.
Straight Outta Compton is a powerful and timely film that mostly hits all of the right beats. F. Gary Gray has made a nearly three-hour biopic that rarely shows its bulk and that’s because the film is emotionally invested in its characters and their lives in a way that’s informative, moving and understanding of not just who N.W.A. was, but what they stood for.
The film’s closing chapter is definitely weaker than the minutes before it and I’m not sure if that has anything to do with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s actual involvement in the film or Gray’s attempt at telling the whole story without leaving out some of the unneeded details.
There’s still so much to like and so much to enjoy. Straight Outta Compton should please the most die-hard of N.W.A. fans, while also opening the eyes of those that think their music is just about gang violence and the “hood” life. There’s so much more to the film and discovering that and learning just how monumental the rap group was and still is to our society and culture is an experience that should be seen on the big screen.