So, so many biopics are made every few years, with very few of them being genuinely great. It feels like ever since Jamie Foxx gave the performance of his career in Ray way back in like 2005, all biopics have been running on the same formulaic template. Person with extreme talent; they get famous and rise from nothing; they start doing drugs; cheating on their wives; falling apart; and hopefully finding a happy ending. This is what I feared when hearing about Straight Outta Compton. And thankfully, the director F. Gary Gray managed to completely avoid those pitfalls and make an incredibly entertaining and energetic movie. Definitely one of the most memorable of the year.
This film is the rise and fall of N.W.A. – with all of the fame and glory, along with the shame and mistakes. Straight Outta Compton tells the true story of how these cultural rebels-armed only with their lyrics, swagger, bravado and raw talent-stood up to the authorities that meant to keep them down and formed the world’s most dangerous group. And as they spoke the truth that no one had before and exposed life in the hood, their voice ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today.
You got O’Shea Jackson Jr. playing Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre. Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Neil Brown Jr. playing DJ Yella, and Aldis Hodge as MC Ren. And right off the bat, one of the best aspects of this movie is the cast. It is damn near perfect, with Paul Giamatti playing N.W.A’s eccentric manager, Jerry Heller. Most of the actors may not look exactly like the person they are portraying, but ultimately that falls away as their acting talent and charisma takes over and makes this whole project work really well.
Nobody is simply doing an impersonation of anyone, especially O’Shea Jr.. You’re gonna see him do his fathers’ famous scoul throughout the movie, but he manages to really capture Cube’s energy and physicality without overdoing it. Mitchell is definitely the stand out here as Eric Eazy-E Wright, who is the most charismatic and gregarious of the group. He also gets some of the biggest laughs in the entire movie. Speaking of E, the film begins with him, drug dealing. And the house gets raided by the police, and it is a surprisingly effective opening sequence that pretty much sums up the world these men are living in. Dre is living at home, dealing with his disappointed mother who isn’t too happy with him DJ-ing. Cube is on the school bus, leaving the predominantly white high-school he goes to, only for gang members to storm the bus and harass everyone.
How the characters all meet is done organically and keeps the steady flow of the narrative. Before long, the guys are in a recording studio, trying to convince E to get on the mic – who is very reluctant to do so since he’s just been the guy supplying the money for their music endeavours. And right after this, Jerry Heller sinks his teeth into E and lures him into signing a deal with him…one that will eventually cause tons of friction and anger between certain members of the group.
The movie is about 2 and a half hours, and apparently Gray got that result after editing the movie down from nearly 3 and a half hours. Watching the movie, it’s noticeable where scenes may have been missing. They were not able to capture everything that went down during this time. Things may be hinted at or mentioned as happening off camera here and there. We do see N.W.A. break up and go their separate ways, with Ice Cube joining Priority Records and creating AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Cube was definitely portrayed to be the most militant and outspoken of the group. And viewing some of the police brutality through his eyes can’t help but make you feel the same way.
In one scene, the group members are harassed by the cops right outside Jerry’s studio, and it’s far from the first time it happens in the movie. The notorious performance of “
Fuck Tha Police” in Detroit is memorable, if for no other reason than it’s sheer, raw militant message. And in some scenes, it is almost frightening how some of the riots and violence that went on back in is still happening today. Much like Selma, this movie is almost too relevant right now. As we even have said before on the site, hip-hop has been too silent (with a few exceptions), seeing this movie is sure to keep that flame going.
But in the 3rd act, things do start to feel a bit rushed. We’re seeing Dre linking up with Death Row, meetin Snoop (who is horribly miscast) and Pac (probably the best casting in the whole damn film), and it almost starts to play out like a highlight reel – when the first half of the movie was taking its time and letting these characters breathe. But even the final third of the movie is still ultimately enjoyable.
While a movie like this is typically released during the fall, letting it end the summer is totally perfect. This won’t be winning any Academy Awards, however I would not be surprised if Jason Mitchell were nominated for a Golden Globe for his acting. Of course, all of the black-centric awards will be shining a lot of light on this film, understandably so. Straight Outta Compton is one of the best biopics that has been made in recent years, and will for sure be honored as a classic in hip-hop cinema.