Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Stars: O’Shea Jackson, jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
Release date: September 3rd, 2015
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 147 minutes
Best part: The spot-on performances.
Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.
Compton, California-born hip-hop ensemble NWA created gangsta rap from scratch. The West Coast group – forged by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Ezy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren – spoke the unspoken truth about America’s brash, brazen authority figures. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the LAPD and FBI had a strong, adversarial force on their doorstep. However, behind the scenes, the era-defining group ultimately took themselves down. This fascinating true story is the backbone of Straight Outta Compton, a musical biopic more invigorating than most.
Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are currently two of pop-culture’s hardest-working artists. They, taking on producing duties here, are in control over Straight Outta Compton’s accuracy. Controversy has since overshadowed the production, with black marks including Dre’s assault convictions pushed aside. The biopic chronicles the rise and fall strand of the journey. Cube (O’Shea Jackson jr.), Dre (Corey Hawkins), and E (Jason Mitchell) form NWA under label Ruthless Records. Supported by shady music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), debut album Straight Outta Compton takes every corner of America by storm. Inciting violence with ‘F*ck tha Police’, cracks quickly form within the group.
For better or worse, Cube and Dre’s involvement makes Straight Outta Compton one of 2015’s edgiest and most compelling dramas. Director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Italian Job) is, to a certain extent, given free rein with this fascinating material. Sticking to a dark, uncompromising tone, Gray handles Compton’s gang/drug culture, racial injustice, and the group’s beginnings efficiently. The first half’s breakneck pace elevates it above most musical biopics. Gracefully, the first half focuses intently on the group dynamic and swift ascension into Platinum prowess. Driven by sex, money, and drugs, many sequences effectively balance drama and humour.
Unfortunately, the second half adheres to several tired, out-dated biopic clichés. Typically, the ‘fall’ stage feels like a monotonous slog towards the dénouement. Despite the tension and thrills, its unnecessary 147-minute run-time pads out this otherwise compelling story. Despite the length, the narrative jumps erratically between its lead three characters. Grappling with their extended war of words, betrayal, and multiple supporting characters, the movie’s building sub-plots – including run-ins with vile producer Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) and Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) – overshadow the thematic resonance and lighter, character-driven moments. Despite the flaws, its tragic finale highlights NWA overwhelming, multi-generational effect.
Cube and Dre allow Gray’s production to express the darker shades of their remarkable story. Cube, shown doing everything from trashing Priority Records with a baseball bat to raising a family, makes for a charismatic force of personality and ambition. Played by his real-life son, the film version is depicted with true colours. Ezy is the film’s heart and soul. Driven by the public spotlight, Ezy stands out beyond his ultra-famous band mates. Mitchell is the breakout star, playing the larger-than-life figure with restraint and dignity. However, Dre, though played effectively by Hawkins, is treated as a shining light. Despite the illegitimate children and arrests, the movie version is shown as pioneering more so than flawed or broken.
Becoming a smash commercial hit over the past month, the movie vigorously discusses ongoing tensions between the police and African-American communities. Like 2014 docudrama Selma, Straight Outa Compton captures a rich, in-depth look at local communities affected by the misuse of police power. Discussing the zeitgeist, this biopic isn’t afraid to showcase the dangers of NWA’s touring experience. Facing police threats, protests and government injunctions, the group’s socio-political edge resonates today. Referencing the Rodney King beatings, several sequences capture the severity of police brutality in and around the titular LA suburb. One scene, showcasing police interference outside Heller’s studio, illuminates the group’s historical importance.
Despite appealing to typical musical-biopic tropes, Straight Outta Compton flows with the tone and rhythm of the titular song. Cube and Dre, though overcooking the production, let Gray tell a dark, uncompromising version of unbelievable events.