|Title:||Straight Outta Compton|
|Director:||F. Gary Gray|
|Starring:||O’Shea Jackson Jr,
|Genre:||Biopic, Drama, Music|
|Runtime:||2 Hours 27 mins|
New line Cinema
|Release Date:||US: Aug 14 2015
UK: Aug 28 2015
|See If You Like:||8 Mile|
F. Gary Gray sure hasn’t made a biopic suiting everybody, but what he has been able to do is craft an intriguing, accessible story that doesn’t pull any punches.
Straight Outta Compton tells the story of N.W.A., the hip-hop group that arguably ignited and defined late 80s/early 90s gangsta rap. The three main dudes are Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, Contraband), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., his own son) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins, Non-Stop). The film chronicles the group’s beginning in urban Los Angeles, where they face threats of gang violence and brutal police harassment.
But the lads have talent. Dr. Dre is a DJ who is sick of playing sappy 80’s love hits at a local club. Cube is a gifted rhymester who dreams of spreading the word about the hostility and corruption he sees on the streets. Eazy-E is a drug dealer who just tries to get through each day without getting himself killed or arrested. They have a common love for hip-hop, and they manifest their anger and raw talent into becoming one of the most controversial music groups of all time.
The performances of its three leading characters are all fantastic, with the decision of casting O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father a great one. Of course he has the resemblance, but Jackson is brilliant at capturing the swagger and introverted determination of his father. Corey Hawkins as Dre shoulders a lot of the dramatic heft and does well at injecting the film with some much-needed emotion. Jason Mitchell effectively delivers the multi-layered personality of Eazy-E; at times a cocky, arrogant loudmouth, and others a vulnerable, intelligent young man.
Straight Outta Compton’s first half runs circles around most other biopic material you’ll see these days. The film does a great job at showing the harshness of lower-class, urban America, and it’s in this setting where the actors are given their chance to shine. Watching the boys interact with each other and start harnessing their own unique sound is incredibly fun to watch, and Straight Outta Compton’s pleasures come from watching the group’s friendship solidify. N.W.A. are starting to get noticed in the local music scene, especially from manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, Sideways). Heller brings N.W.A. mainstream fame, but at the same time, the group is targeted for their controversial lyrics, especially those that seem to glorify violence against women and police officers.
Giamatti was an interesting choice, but the man is undeniably talented, and is able to fully embrace the persona of an ostensibly virtuous but untrustworthy manager. Unexpected success also has an impact on Heller, and we’re made to second guess his character once he starts to show his true colours through Giamatti’s energetic performance.
This is where the movie starts to test the strength of the characters’ relationships. N.W.A.’s lyrics have given voice to an oppressed minority in America, and the riots and vandalism that ensue is blamed on them, while police brutality still thrives. F. Gary Gray and writers Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff do a great job of distancing themselves from subjective social commentary. Instead, the movie sticks with a more-or-less accurate depiction of the story, and examines how each member of the group deals with their pressures and the society around them. The film is produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, and, surprisingly, they too do a great job at keeping their personal opinions out of it and letting the viewer decide where their morals lie.
Gray has managed to infuse his story with a satisfying amount of dramatic suspense and exhilarating music scenes. When N.W.A. were doing their thing, I could feel the entire cinema shaking. For fans of N.W.A. and rap music in general, Straight Outta Compton’s soundtrack will test you not to start pumping your fist in the middle of the theatre.
Halfway during the film, when you’re wondering how this could get any better, Straight Outta Compton lets you down by straying into familiar biopic conventions. What makes this movie enjoyable is its uniqueness, its grittiness, its camaraderie. It’s crass, and it doesn’t hold back in portraying the severity of its environment, which makes the movie’s second half all the more disappointing. With the entirety of the film so far dedicated to N.W.A.’s rise to the mainstream and the volatile relationship with manager Heller, Straight Outta Compton then introduces too many supporting characters and sub-plots that it has to inevitably tie-up, rather than solely focusing on the meat of the narrative. Tupac and Snoop Dogg make unnecessary appearances, while the sub-plot of Dre’s subsequent relationship with Suge Knight is introduced too late in the game for it to have any real impact. I’d much rather watch the boys battle the ruthlessness on the streets than watch them struggling with the elitist media machine in their fancy houses.
For all of its confidence, Straight Outta Compton unquestionably paints its main characters in a positive light. Dre’s past is well documented, as is his bitter feud with Eazy-E, but it’s clear that Dr. Dre, as a producer, would have had a few things to say about how he was portrayed. I’m sure that, besides necessary dramatisation, what happened in this film actually happened. But Gray obviously downplays certain aspects of the group’s history to make the story more one-sided and palatable than it should have been, which makes the finished product a touch more disappointing.
Nonetheless, Straight Outta Compton is a throughly enjoyable film that is more than capable of holding your attention for it’s lengthy runtime. The musical numbers boom, the actors shine, and its energy will keep you hooked. It could have been a lot more, but it’s one thing that a lot of biopics aren’t: effortlessly entertaining.
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