“Straight Outta Compton” is an energetic and wild ride that’s sure to be hit among hip hop fans yet controversial for others. Formulaic in its approach, the film recounts N.W.A.’s formation to its eventual disbandment. It’s sure to excite hip hop fans with its electrifying, hard-bopping concert scenes. Combine this with a soundtrack of classic hip hop, funk, and soul hits, and you have a music lover’s dream. Enough to have the audience head bopping or singing aloud with film.
The cast of relatively newcomers — O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), and Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) effectively capture the persona and spirit of their real life counterparts. Neil Brown Jr. (DJ Yella) and Aldis Hodge (MC Ren) do a serviceable job but the film largely downplays their roles in favor of the aforementioned trio. And Paul Giamatti is as greasy as his hairstyle in his portrayal of the untrustworthy Jerry Heller, the group’s manager. We also receive glimpses of a young Snoop Dogg and Tupac, which are nice, but only feel as points to emphasize Dr. Dre’s legacy.
Despite favorable performance by its cast, the film is unapologetic in its villainous portrayal of the police. The first scene sets the tone as a battering ram rips through a dope house tearing apart its structure and killing a drug dealer in the process. Police frequently dish out the N word, unwarranted searches, and obscenities that are surely to enrage. If you haven’t felt anger from the recent police shootings this is the movie to spark it. In one particular concert scene in Detroit, N.W.A plays their notorious hit “F—k the Police” to the chagrin of local police which results in a riot and their arrest.
For some though, as fellow Madison365 contributor David Hart has pointed out, the film feels as if it omits the villainous points in N.W.A’s own history. It doesn’t censor or dare criticize the group’s often misogynistic and violent lyrics. As Ice Cube says in a famous line from the trailer, “Our art is a reflection of our reality.” But at no point are we shown Dr. Dre’s famous assaults against Dee Barnes or R&B singer Michel’le. The film largely overlooks this to highlight Dre’s role as a visionary.
But if you’re looking for a film that criticizes N.W.A’s influence, “Straight Outta Compton” isn’t it. In fact it functions much more like a boys’ club. There’s very limited screen time for those outside the group’s musical circle, with exception to Dre’s little brother. Where the film lacks in that personal depth, it reaches into the bounds of N.W.A’s brotherhood, trials, and impact on hip hop culture. This is the film’s strongpoint, in addition to its political commentary on police brutality. We’re also invited to view the film as a coming-of-age story. Not only do we see the main characters grow from reckless, immature, and womanizing youth to husbands and fathers, but it portrays an era where hip hop and society began to realize the injustices our youth face at the hands of corrupt police. It’s an era that is seemingly repeating today.
If you’re a music fan or simply someone interested in the story, “Straight Outta Compton” is a hit. Fast-paced, loud, and packed with energy, the film is without any lulls. It’s good summertime blockbuster entertainment, but controversial nonetheless.
Controversy aside, I’d give it 3 stars outta 4.
Straight Outta Compton
Directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Law Abiding Citizen, The Italian Job)
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcus Taylor
Screenplay by Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman
Story by S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus
Rated R language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use
Length 147 minutes