“Straight Outta Compton” artfully recreates the rise of the iconic “Gangsta Rap” pioneers N.W.A. against a raw, poignant and engaging backdrop of social injustices, turmoil and ultimate civil unrest in early ’90s Los Angeles.
Director F. Gary Gray, whose first claim to fame “Friday” was penned by N.W.A.’s very own O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, gives all the ‘feels’ in this precisely executed cinematic snapshot of the late ’80s and early ‘90s. In the vexed yet inspired city of Compton, a group of young dreamers collaborate to develop what would become a historical and ground-shaking genre. What was promoted as a biopic about a rap supergroup showed an unexpected depth, rich social commentary and meticulously keen visual presentation that was both captivating and moving. Whether you are a hip-hop enthusiast or a person in seek of a well-executed and meaningful film, you will find what you desire in abundance in this refreshingly balanced motion picture. If there is one movie to watch this popcorn snacking cinema season, it’s “Straight Outta Compton.”
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
Prior to watching the movie (that morning actually) I interviewed “Straight Outta Compton” actor Keith Powers, who plays Dr. Dre’s younger brother Tyree Crayton. During our conversation about the film, Powers made a statement that didn’t fully resonate with me until I saw the film.
I like to call this movie a reminder. I feel like as a Hip-Hop fan you need to be reminded. I feel like as an American you should be reminded and I think it came at a relevant time. Which is now, with all the police brutality and such. – Keith Powers
When it comes to the screenplay, I can not imagine the extensive efforts, research and nostalgia mining that was required to create such a vivid and accurate environment and dialogue. The brilliant screenplay penned by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff was adapted from S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Berloff’s rich and well-contoured story.
The film begins in 1986, as Gray introduces audiences to the humble and human beginnings of what would become the iconic N.W.A. Within that origin we are introduced to the brotherly friendship between aspiring ice-cold lyricist O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (stunningly played by Ice Cube’s real-life son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and aspiring DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins). Jackson and Young, ready to embrace the pursuit of a musical career, begin courting a personality-rich neighborhood drug dealer, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), who upon growing weary of the diminishingly lucrative drug dealing occupation, decides to invest his ill-gotten funds as start-up capital for Ruthless Records.
Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E was easily the highlight performance of the movie. Mitchell re-created the iconically charming and lady loving ‘gangsta’ persona, but brought to it an additional depth of emotion and vulnerability. His performance masterfully engages the audience in Eazy-E’s emotional and physical struggles, be they for better or for worse. Brilliant dialogue aside, the natural and believable rapport between Mitchell and his on-screen counterparts makes me think that his name will not be forgotten when Oscar season rolls around. And if it is forgotten, and not even a nod is given, it would represent a gross oversight on the behalf of the Academy.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. will also be one to watch, his uncanny ability to mimic his father’s signature brand of gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) rage, facial mannerisms, and vocal inflections (yelling) made him a stand-out among the highly-talented ensemble cast. With the elder Jackson’s obvious gift for penning widely appreciated and memorable lyrics or screenplays, it would not be outside the realm of belief that O’Shea Jr. has inherited some, if not all, of his father’s creativity.
It would not be a fair analysis if I did not mention the astounding supporting performance delivered by Paul Giamatti as the seasoned and silver-haired talent manager Jerry Heller. Heller takes the green artists and introduces them to the glamorous yet deceptive world of the ‘90s music biz. The silver tongued Heller champions the old-“White” way of thinking cracking open a door for the energetic, opinionated and fearless N.W.A. Of course, Giamatti adds another layer to the epic Hip-Hop opera, keeping the ear of the young and impressionable Eazy-E.
As for cinematography, I cannot recall one poorly shot scene, or poorly blocked interaction. Every camera motion was meaningful. Every angle was telling and every blocked interaction was powerful. There were two notable scenes that I found to be particularly moving in the movie, vaguely put for the sake of non-spoilers, one scene involved the entire group after Dre got some bad news from back home, and the other was the climax of Eazy-E’s story-arc. The latter proved to be particularly painful, which is further testament to Mitchell’s excellent performance.
Entertainment Value – 5
“Straight Outta Compton” had a titanic runtime of two-and-a-half-hours, but was snugly stuffed with enough tastes and textures to make it feel like only half the time. What is perhaps most engaging about “Straight Outta Compton” is that yes, on one hand this is the story of N.W.A., but at the same time it is the story of a city and the people who create that city. The films shows a raw and stewing discontentment that not only fuels the rabid verses of the N.W.A., but also speaks to the perspective of one living the discontentment of the early ’90s in L.A. The audience is nearly brought to tears with sympathy and shame for the rough ends and under-represented perspectives of the human experience. The ferocious vigor of the Gansta Rap pioneers and the decaying (if ever present in the first place) dialogue between the less-served citizenry and the over-stepping and brashly depicted authorities converge to create an engaging and thought provoking portrait of their struggle to overcome adversity.
There is also no shortage of nods to modern Hip-Hop to keep any pop culture enthusiast “Ooh-ing” and “Ahh-ing.” With brief encounters with kings of the West Coast sound, the film hits all bases with rough encounters with a terrifyingly stoic and silently deranged Suge Knight (played frighteningly well enough by R. Marcos Taylor to make one dampen their trousers) to energetic sessions with the late great Tupac Shakur.
“Straight Outta Compton” isn’t all serious topics and raw presentation, it also has it’s fair share of laughs and a heavy dose of partying. Some of the extravagant, robust and scantitly clad lady lined Wet ‘N’ Wild party scenes make Leo’s “The Wolf of WallStreet” Yacht parties seem like a college kegger. On the action side of things, there’s girls, drugs, fast cars, and guns (lots of guns). There are high speed chases, drug busts, moments of deep personal connection, social commentary for real-life historical events and they’re all seamlessly woven into an outstanding cinematic tapestry.
On a more superficial level, the energetic hip-hop hymns that were superimposed over the film were an auditory treat. The nostalgia and the re-visitation of the old school, vinyl scratching, R&B loving sound of late ’80s and early ’90s hip-hop had a distinct voice. On a deeper level, like Ice Cube’s on-screen simulacrum mentions, these songs are not rants of unfounded aggression, rather a representation of the culture from which they were coming and the daily life they, and others in their community, would (and to a certain extent still may) encounter upon stepping foot outside of their front door. The film is about American history and what happened when a group of five musical journalists gave a voice to an unheard and misunderstood community.
Re-Watchability – 4
“Straight Outta Compton” has so many levels of appeal that it will be easy to watch time and time again. Whether tuning in to reminisce with the high energy soundtrack or to relive a piece in the dynamic puzzle of American history, this biopic-done-right is an easy addition to the personal movie collection for repeated enjoyment.
For overall cinematic value, I give “Straight Outta Compton” 4.5 out of 5 Gold Records.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Cara Patterson, Alexandra Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Elena Goode, Keith Powers, Joshua Brockington, Sheldon A. Smith, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Cleavon McClendon III, Aeriel Miranda.
“Straight Outta Compton” debuted on August 14th, 2015 and is A Universal release presented with Legendary Pictures in association with New Line Cinema.
“Straight Outta Compton” artfully recreates the rise of the iconic “Gangsta Rap” pioneers N.W.A. against a raw, poignant and engaging backdrop of social injustices, turmoil and ultimate unrest in early ’90’s Los Angeles. What was billed as a biopic showed an unexpected depth of character, social commentary and meticulously keen visual presentation that was both captivating and moving. Whether you are a hip-hop enthusiast or a person in seek of a well-executed and meaningful film, you will find it in abundance in this film. If there is one movie to watch this theatre season, it's “Straight Outta Compton."