Dir: F. Gary Gray
Writer(s): Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr. and Paul Giamatti
Synopsis: The group NWA emerges from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
N.W.A aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes was one of – if not the – most known group and popular rap groups in the late 80s and early 90s. The success you could argue was because of the time and place they formed and got popular, but it doesn’t take away anything they have done or their talent. However, Straight Outta Compton feels like a mix of gritty drama, road movie, and behind-the-music. Moreover, the film touches on the racial tensions back then, but you can’t help but feel the connection to the present with all the racial tensions today as well. But of course the question is, is Straight Outta Compton any good? Or is it a water down biopic on a highly successful and beloved group? It’s a mix of both.
I’ll be honest; I’m not the biggest N.W.A fan out there. I do like a few of their songs and knew some of the history coming in to the movie, so for the most part I can in as a clean sponge ready to soak in everything about the group that I didn’t know and how they formed. Of course, you should know that the film does take some liberties with the history of the group. For one, some things don’t line up in history timeline, but that could be because the film was originally three and a half hours and it was cut down an hour for the theater cut. The other is some events in the groups history were completely taken out and not even mentioned, but I’ll leave that for you to find out what. Straight Outta Compton isn’t a complete biopic, but it is a good one that focuses on the group’s three major players: Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins).
The film starts off showing us the lives of the three live before they became the notorious group. Eazy-E is selling drugs, Dr. Dre wants a better life for himself and is confident about his abilities, and Ice Cube is writing lyrics and also wants a better life. Enter in Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown Jr.), Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and The D.O.C (Marlon Yates Jr.) and the group hit it off and make a hit song. Soon they get the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who gets more exposure for the group and eventually makes them one of the biggest groups on the planet.
Once the group starts touring and becoming more and more popular, the group starts becoming a little splintered, due to contracts. It’s Ice Cube that sees Eazy-E and Jerry are getting the better end of the deal than him and goes off to do his own thing, while Dr. Dre realizes’ it and goes off to produce his own music with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) to start their own company in Death Row Records. Eventually, everything starts to fall apart and everyone starts to look back at what was and could have been.
Like I mentioned earlier, Straight Outta Compton drives more its focus on the group as people and where they came from to what happened after the success. Of course, not everything in the group history is in the movie, but the performances and tense drama is enough to overlook all that – at least when you’re watching the film – but even some stuff in the film seems biased only because you know they are not going to put everything into the film.
The performances are really what make the film pop and worthwhile. Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E is both tragic and charismatic and is one of the most defined characters in the film. Corey Hawkins’ Dr. Dre is probably the second most defined as we see his struggle with leaving the group and dealing with Suge Knight’s antics at Death Row Records. Finally, O’Shea Jackson Jr. gets to play his own father and it really is like seeing a spitting image of him. Jackson Jr. actually holds his own in his own scenes to the point you can tell he actually put in work and wasn’t just given the role because he looks the most like his father. Finally, there is Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller. Giamatti is as reliable as always and his best scenes are arguably with Mitchell’s Eazy-E, especially one of these last scenes together.
The rest of the cast is really just along for the ride, Brown Jr.’s DJ Yella and Hodge’s MC Ren are really just background characters that get only a few moments to shine or do a little more, but get lost in the shuffle. Marlon Yates Jr.’s The D.O.C doesn’t even get a lot of screen time or lines for the matter, he’s easily the most forgettable character of the group until he’s mentioned in one particular scene. R. Marcos Taylor’s portray of Suge Knight hits a little more closer to home considering what is currently going on with him, but believing all the stories is a lot more easier once you see what happens in the film.
Director F. Gary Gray put a lot of thought into how the group finally comes together and the performances. Each one has its own vibe to it and nothing ever repeats itself. The big one is of course the famous concert in Detroit. I won’t go too much into it, but it is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Even the way the group supposedly got the inspiration for one of their hit songs, “Fuck Tha Police” was extremely well put together and had every bit of drama and tension that made that scene powerful in every way.
If there is one thing I didn’t like about the film, it would be the length. I’m not one to complain or even bring up the length of a film, only because it feels nit-picky. However, Straight Outta Compton could have taken out some scenes to cut the runtime and it wouldn’t have hurt the film in any way. I do get why the scenes were in there, but some of the previous scenes did the job well enough. However, knowing that the film Gray wanted to put out was originally three and a half hours long, and then had to cut down an hour, it makes sense some scenes feel a bit out of place. Moreover, there are “cameos” by artists by Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose) that feel forced and out of place, but again, knowing that the cut was originally longer, I guess it makes more sense.
All in all, Straight Outta Compton is a great film. The movie is surprisingly more dramatic and tense than you would think, but it’s the performances by the three main leads in O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell that makes the film worthwhile. Paul Giamatti is also a major player in the supporting cast role. The film does lose a lot of steam toward the end of the film, but gains it back a bit before the credits role. The film may not have the group entire history, and could be a bit biased, but there is no question to say the film isn’t good.
Straight Outta Compton
4 out of 5