Straight Outta Compton is without a doubt one of the most entertaining movies you will see this year, but it is not without its flaws as it looks to chronicle the rise and subsequent fall of one of the most influential and notorious rap groups, who completely changed the game forever.
N.W.A were a group of black men from Compton, LA, who took it upon themselves to provide a voice through rap music about what was really happening at the time in their neighbourhood; racial profiling, police brutality, murders, drug dealing. Some say it was glamourising the ‘gangster’ lifestyle, they would argue it is a ‘reflection of their reality’. From self-promotion, small time gigs, and then a meteoric rise to the top brought all kinds of trouble personally, financially, morally and legally. They were rebels with a cause, and it wasn’t to incite violence or for everyone to be gangsters, it was to make sure everyone got heard. To provide a voice to the voiceless, and become famous.
The first half of the movie captures this rise perfectly. The first time Eazy-E jumps on the mic in a small time club and everyone vibes the hell out, the first time when we catch Dr. Dre spinning, chopping and scratching records, and the first time Ice Cube whips the crowd into a frenzy at one of their sell-out shows. This, along with the social factors shown alongside their rise, influencing their music, all builds up to when ‘Fuck The Police’ is written and then played out live. It sends shivers down your spine to try to comprehend what that defiant act must have been like to witness live.
If you don’t know too much about the group, then it’s no bad thing. The flip-side to their incredible story is to watch how it all falls apart, so I’ll be vague with the details and avoid any major spoilers where possible. Scepticism regarding their manager, Jerry Haller, played by the excellent Paul Giamatti, and creative/financial disputes lead to a disbanding and one of the greatest diss tracks of all time. However, while these two angles were explored quite in-depth as to their contribution towards the falling apart of NWA, other factors in these young mens lives are just dots on a timeline, thrown together in a sort of check-list style fashion which barely holds together.
I had many questions after the film regarding incidents shown, because quite often moments were shown without build up or context, with the entire second half flashing right before your eyes. It makes sense then that Director Gary Gray explained the original cut was 3 and a half hours long, within that cut we may have been given that much-needed explanation for some of the scenes. You will have probably seen in the news too that one glaring omission, simply reduced to a line in the film, was Dr. Dre’s horrendous history of assault and in particular the one on Dee Barnes. He has since come out an apologised for it, but I question the choice of that particular omission.
Here we have a group who are young, rolling in cash, with guns and drugs and hundreds of women around them. They treat them awfully, and yet the audience were laughing. When they left shoved a groupie in the face, leaving her in the hallway topless after her angry boyfriend showed up, the audience laughed. We have pool parties with naked women everywhere, and their nonchalant treatment of the women gets laughs all the time. This isn’t the films fault, they did everything they could to show that these men weren’t nice to women and yet it misfired with the audience. Perhaps the inclusion of the assaults would have generated a very different reaction. Mind you, sections of the same audience laughed when the police turned up with battering ram, which flew through the door in the opening scene pelting a woman across the room. Go figure.
The story, although patchy in parts, cannot take away anything from the incredibly talented cast of young actors in Straight Outta Compton. O’Shea Jackson Jr channeling his father as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as the beat maker and mastermind producer Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell shines as the controversial and outspoken Eazy-E, while Neil Brown Jr. (Dj Yella), Aldis Hodge (MC Ren) and Marlon Yates Jr. (The D.O.C) fulfil their supporting roles in an equally convincing nature. The film was raw and powerful, the cast clearly knew and understood the significance of this group and put everything they had into those larger than life characters. This could have been so wrong if given to the wrong cast but you can’t commend them enough for the choices made by the team, and the performances given.
The Hip-Hop laden soundtrack spliced together with Sigur Ros sounding moments of reflection, matched up well with the aggressive live shows, actual real life footage at the time, and the depicted real life tragedies being caused in the streets. The score and cinematography emphasised the message being made by N.W.A, and just like them, this film looked, sounded and felt like a big deal.
From beginnings that would have stopped many, N.W.A rose from Compton and brought everyone along with them. A timely release given the current state of affairs in the US with the police brutality against African-Americans achieving widespread social-media coverage and #blacklivesmatter gaining more traction every day. Unfortunately it seems that what N.W.A looked to shine a light on is still happening. While they may have grown, or been bought by Apple, or starred in films, and all have experienced huge album sales, other African-Americans are still experiencing what they did all those years ago. You can only hope that a film of this nature inspires others to speak and rise up against those that try to suppress them.
I look forward to potentially getting a directors cut on DVD; I wished it was longer, and I wish I could watch it again. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait until next week. There’s also rumours of a sequel charting the rise of Snoop Dogg (who appears briefly in a number of great scenes), and if it’s anything like this, then sign me up right now.
Despite its mistakes, it is an unbelievable story and quite simply one of the most entertaining, interesting and captivating movies you will see this year.