Straight Outta Compton is the biopic of the rise and fall of the 90’s rap group N.W.A and mainly follows its most successful (or notorious) members Dr Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube. It begins by following Eazy-E, who is selling dope in the ghetto, Dr Dre, who is living on his aunt’s sofa with partner & child/as part time DJ and Ice Cube who went about his life focusing purely on his lyrics. Shortly after coming together and releasing their first single they encounter music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who vows to put them on the map and from there we see the corruption, women, guns, disbanding and aftermath of N.W.A and the impact they had on the world.
First and foremost the casting was spot on. Standout was O’Shea Jackson Jr who was playing his father Ice Cube, he brought the intensity no nonsense brutal honesty that we have come to know the rapper for. Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) & Corey Hawkins (Dr Dre) also do good jobs of portraying the characters varying backgrounds and emotive responses to their differing situations before, during and after N.W.A. The rest of the cast are ancillary to the 3 main members but all play the part well. Paul Giamatti is the only actor whose character became a bit cartoonish. Compared to the rest of the cast that all came across relatively grounded, Giamatti turned into a cliché’ dastardly corrupt music manager. Given Ice Cube & Dr Dre were producers on this picture it felt this was the way the character was meant to be written and not necessarily down to the actor’s portrayal.
Generally the movie moves at a good pace when flitting between what is going on with each member with there always being something entertaining that is happening. Not knowing anything about the history of the N.W.A it was as informative as it was engaging. The police brutality they came across, accusations of inciting a riot, elements of gang warfare and being investigated for money laundering by the FBI are some of the events that are focused on, this however ended up being a double edge sword. While it gave a good insight into the local and national impact the band had, there was so little time dedicated to seeing how it affected each of the band members you feel there is more that needed to be said given it’s what inspired their music. It really took away some of the depth of what made the characters who they were while making the story telling seem unbalanced. I don’t doubt that they encountered police brutality but the way the authorities were all made out to be the ultimate villains in a sensationalised way made me as a viewer feel like I was seeing less of a biopic whose material was close to accurate and more a glamorising of what happened to the N.W.A.
The issue with not giving certain events details is something that would come up again as there were times when plot points remained unresolved and had little impact. The movie tries to pack too much in and the 3rd act in particular becomes bloated with unnecessary nods to screenplays being written and artists that were being collaborated with which only served in name dropping. This only made the running time longer than it needed to be and took away the opportunity for other more worthy events to be developed.
That being said the film does a lot of things right. The aesthetics of the film are spot on, from early on in the ghetto to later on in their mansions feels like a genuine transformation has taken place in their lives. The film also admirably attempts to inform its viewer on the dangers of HIV, the impact of the Rodney King trial politically and how gang warfare was ever present in the rap industry at that time where the lower class were going through a transition of being given a voice. It’s these strong points coupled with a good cast that make the film worth watching.
The movie valiantly attempts to straddle between being a Hollywood film and a revealing biopic. At times it felt like a relatively shiny retelling of how the N.W.A came to be, and at times it felt like an informative commentary from the bands point of view of how the struggle of the lower class system started to rebel in 80’s/90’s America. Great acting is met with unbalanced story telling that can be attributed to band members being producers, always a risk in these types of film. Would definitely recommend as it is fun, entertaining and gives an insight into a part of the music industry that has been exaggerated by the media only this time told by some of its pioneers.