Straight Outta Compton
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, and Paul Giamatti
In 1988 the rap group N.W.A. released one of the groundbreaking hip-hop albums of all time. “Straight Outta Compton” was an album peaked with hostility, desperation, frustration, and profanity laced defiance, a calling card to a Los Angeles community dealing with poverty, violence, and racial profiling. The group started as five talented unknown artists who progressed into a dominating force in hip-hop music; featuring the collective of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince. Director F. Gary Gray, known for “Friday” and “The Italian Job”, directs this biopic of the group’s rise to fame and their ultimate aggressive separation into individual artists. The result is an exceptional film that portrays the story of talented and disgruntled young men who utilized words to reflect the emotions and experiences of their world, a group that would transform hip-hop music.
Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) is a DJ for a local club, supporting his girlfriend and child while living in his mother’s house. Dr. Dre is utilizing music as a means of escape, a tool to support his family. Dr. Dre is the creative force behind the music, crafting a sound built on the shoulders of classic soul and R&B records. The voice for his sound arrives behind the crafted lyrics of O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a young man who writes about the world outside his school bus or seen on the nightly news report with unabashed sincerity. Needing money to get the group off the ground, Dr. Dre enlists funding from a local drug dealer named Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, a charming hothead who could easily pull a gun as quick as he could make one crack a smile. These founding members, along with friends MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) would become N.W.A., the most controversial group in rap music.
The film opens with Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) standing toe-to-toe with a drug dealer in a house filled with narcotics, weapons, and the kind of tension that defines the best kind of confrontations in gangster films. In a blink, a Los Angeles tank barrels through the front door and Eazy-E darts through the house and out a window narrowly escaping a fate that would have derailed the future success waiting for him. It’s an action sequence that has all the flair of gritty crime films but it also serves as a representation of N.W.A.’s rise to fame; a rise that maneuvered over obstacles and beyond walls, narrowly evading the grasp of the people that wanted to stop them.
We’ve seen this story before, the peaks and valleys of a music group that succeeded beyond the boundaries set before them. In this regard “Straight Outta Compton” is completely familiar and predictable. However, in the talented hands of director F. Gary Gray the story turns into something immersive and compelling; an extensive historical account that touches on all the milestones but also features specific insights purposefully composed for fans that followed the story of the group and the individuals that would eventual find success of their own. While some scenes may come off a little contrived during more dramatic aspects, like an outburst by Ice Cube in the Priority Records offices, the atmosphere of the environments, attitude of the actors, and placement of the music is always spot on. There is a great scene during the early production of an Eazy-E song called “Boyz-N-The-Hood” where the group struggles to make the song come together, it’s a heartfelt and comedic scene that displays the friendship that drove these young men to take a risk.
“Straight Outta Compton” goes even further, exploring the lives of these men later in their career, showing Dr. Dre make the choice to align with Suge Knight, watching Ice Cube writing the script that would eventually become the movie “Friday”, and seeing Eazy-E’s health fail after contracting HIV. The film is somewhat overly meticulous with the history, fans will be delighted with some of the subtleties and surprises placed throughout while others not familiar may find these moments distracting.
The acting is surprisingly good. Paul Giamatti, the veteran of the young group of actors, makes manager Jerry Heller somewhat of a mystery and O'Shea Jackson Jr.'s striking resemblance to his father's smirk and smile will make you feel like you've been put in a time machine. There are moments when the script lingers within scenes, this is the only time that you will notice the 147 minute running time that otherwise progresses with exceptional pacing.
There is an undeniable essence to this film, which becomes evident when you realize that Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E’s former wife Tomica Wright were heavily involved in the production. “Straight Outta Compton” is a film that rides on the shoulders of the giants that are still influencing rap music today.
4.25 out of 5.00