Straight Outta Compton Is A Standard Biopic That’s Elevated By Its Stellar Young Cast.
Straight Outta Compton.
Director: F. Gary Gray.
Writer: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. (Story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff.)
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor, and Paul Giamatti,.
Where’s it playing? Wide.
It’s hardly a requisite, but most great art has a timeless quality to it.
That’s certainly true of the pioneering rap group N.W.A.’s stunning debut Straight Outta Compton LP: With its punk-like energy and lyrics about police brutality, that 1988 album still sounds as fresh today as it did almost 30 years ago when it came out.
Much like the album it was named after, Straight Outta Compton (the film) too shows the rage and the frustration that comes with being a person of color in this country. And it does so while taking a look at the lives of the people behind the group — mainly Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), but also DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge).
Specifically, the movie follows the paths of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as they hook up with the drug-dealing Eazy-E to help fund their musical exploits. What follows is a pretty typical “behind the music” type of story, complete with duplicitous managers, fame and notoriety. But what makes the N.W.A. version of the film you’ve seen so many times before special is the actors in it.
The three young actors at the center of the story are quite effective. Mitchell’s Eazy has some of the funniest and heartbreaking lines in the whole movie. Hawkins’ Dre is intelligent and passionate. Jackson, portraying Ice Cube, his real-life father with frightening accuracy, is compellingly heated and driven, too.
In this telling, these characters really feel as if they’ve known one another for years. Their on-screen chemistry carries much of the film.
So, too, does the relevancy of the film’s racial and political undercurrents. Had the movie been named Fuck Tha Police instead, few beyond MPAA would take issue: Straight Outta Compton wears its opinions on police brutality on its sleeve, and for good reason, as the police here are nothing but blatantly racist bullies who hide behind their badges; watching the film, it’s a bummer to realize how little we’ve come in the 25 years since the events of the movie.
But it’s a powerful watch, too — one that speaks well to hip-hop’s influence over society and the ways in which self-expression manifests itself through art. Given how popular hip-hop is nowadays, it’s funny to remember how much of the hate towards rap and the “glorification” of gang culture was done by people who had zero context for the music.
Despite its strong performances and dealings with heavy issues, though, the movie does get messy towards its second half — as happened in real-life with the group’s dissolution. Out of the storylines that form in those portion of the film — Ice Cube leaving N.W.A., Eazy working to maintain Ruthless Records and Dre establishing himself as one of rap’s all-time greats — the best one is Dre’s. For one, it has the clearest narrative. But, also, it features appearances from a young Snoop Dogg (played so well by Keith Stanfield, who sounds exactly like Snoop) and a young Tupac (Marc Rose). The other two storylines meander and weaken the movie as a whole.
Still, the movie’s strengths outweigh its weakness. As a biopic, the story is generic, sure. But its performances — and the fact that its story mirrors the issues of today — ultimately elevate the movie to something greater.
Plus, y’know, the soundtrack is awesome.