- on Friday, 14 August 2015 16:02
- by Frank Wilkins
The story being told in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton is as relevant today as it was a generation ago when five young men turned brutally honest rhymes, hardcore beats, and the frustration of living in their inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood into music: the most powerful weapon of their time.
Life for L.A. inner-city youth in the 80s was anything but glamorous with crack dens, gang bangers and ne’er-do-wells on nearly every street corner. Ironically, it’s this very lifestyle that gave rise to N.W.A, one of America’s earliest and most successful purveyors of the gangsta rap genre. That paradox is beautifully illustrated in one of the film’s later scenes that has Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), and company watching footage of the Rodney King beating and its riotous aftermath from the lush confines of their expansive mansions.
By the time of the riots in 1993 the guys had lost their edge. The piss was gone. That ardent passion against all things “authority” had also disappeared as the group turned its focus from hating on cops to battling bad record deals and greedy producers. Success always seems to have a way of turning bile into fat, and N.W.A certainly weren’t immune to its effects.
Ironically, this is also the point at which Gray’s film loses most of its opening act attitude and turns into something more closely resembling a VH1 Behind the Music documentary than it does the ‘roided-out depiction of a dangerous but creative time and place in Urban American history. At nearly 150 minutes, Straight Outta Compton is about 30 minutes too long as Gray spends the latter third running down the group’s demise in a documentary-style timeline. Yes, there’s a lot to cram in, including the “diss” record battles, the money problems, and Eazy E’s well-publicized death to AIDs, but the formation of the group and seeing what drove these guys out of the ghetto is far more interesting than what tore them down. The abrupt change in tone, pace, and attitude hobbles the experience significantly.
The story is told through the eyes of Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre as they leave their paltry DJ gigs in central LA’s bars and clubs, and come together – with the financial backing of Eazy E’s drug money – to form the group that would shoot to stardom in the early 90’s from the controversy of their “Fuck tha Police” recording, defiant arrest in Detroit, and their subsequent investigation by the FBI.
Other group members are portrayed by Aldis Hodge as MC Ren while Neil Brown, Jr. is DJ Yella. But the standout performance comes from Jackson who conjures his father’s emotions – not to mention a striking likeness – with a chilling depiction that should keep the elder actor on his toes.
As always, Paul Giamatti stands out as controversial N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller who first noticed the group’s rising success and partnered with Eazy E to manage their recordings and negotiate contracts. To a fault, Eazy sticks with Heller despite indications that he was skimming money and signing away their recording contracts. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the real-life Heller, but his under-handed treatment of the group is never softened in Straight Outta Compton. In fact, it becomes clear in the film that he was the main catalyst for the group’s demise.
Another of the film’s notable performances is turned in by R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, the co-founder and CEO of Death Row Records, the outfit that would eventually lure Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from Heller’s Ruthless Records label. Taylor’s screen depiction of Knight is both terrifying and ferocious - even knowing the real-life ruthlessness with which Knight conducted his professional business while he was still a free man.
Don’t be fooled by Straight Outta Compton’s self-positioning as a coming-of-age story with themes of friendship, brotherhood, and triumph. Sure, there are all those things. But this is one nasty mother – well deserving of its R rating – that, despite its setting in a time some twenty years gone, holds little back as it continues to fan the flames of relevance with today’s ongoing urban struggles.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use
Runtime: 147 mins
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Cast: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Genre: Biography | Music
Tagline: The world's most dangerous times created the world's most dangerous group
Memorable Movie Quote: "Let me tell you what I see here: a lot of raw talent. Swagger. Bravado. People are scared of you guys. They think you're dangerous, but the world needs to hear it."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Official Site: http://www.straightouttacompton.com/#/
Release Date: August 14, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.
No details available.