Review: Straight Outta Compton
Chronicling the rise, fall, and rocky aftermath of the rap group N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton steamrolls through over a decade of music, violence, and tragedy at an astounding pace. Not without its flaws, Compton is an irresistibly fun viewing experience full of heart and provocativeness. It’s topical and a great tribute to its real-life characters, but it’s also just a strong dose of old-fashioned entertainment.
We follow the original members of N.W.A, MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr, playing his father) as they make it out of Compton and use their raw talent to stumble into a record deal, a tour, and eventually, a legacy.
Funded by Eazy E’s savings from dealing drugs and managed by Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), N.W.A begins touring and their “reality-rap” gains popularity among fans and notoriety among law enforcement agencies. For a short while, everything works. Pretty quickly however, heated disputes emerge over earnings and Cube exits the group for a solo career and Dre teams up with Suge Knight. Among the chaos of parties, contract disputes, and violence, a young Tupuc and Snoop Dogg join Dre in some crowd-pleasing recording sessions.
The origin story is exceptional here and director F. Gary Gray turns Compton into a character early in the film. The setting created the music, the desperation, and the famous attitudes, and Gray makes that clear. Gray also succeeds at bringing to the screen the anti-authority, racially-charged attitude of the group and its music. The film does not shy away from its relevancy today. The social commentary hits hard given how problems that plagued the group and their lyrics still rage on today. Even though their music succeeded and two original members went on to make this film, the obstacles N.W.A faced then are still faced by disadvantaged youth all these years later. It’s a sobering affair all around.
The performances are electric and the cast injects a surprising amount of humour and humility into their roles. Eazy-E feels like the most complete and honest character, quite likely because he had nothing to do with the making of this film. Dre and Cube come across as authentic and fully developed, but their stories are not told with the same critical lens or objectivity.
All the music biopic staples are here – the rise to fame, big performances, money issues, internal bickering, and the eventual breakup – but evoke some real feeling, largely due to the performances and topical subject matter. Also like most music biopics, Compton tells a sprawling story and there are some areas that are under-explored or feel rushed. Other parts of the story are left out completely, including Dr. Dre’s violent history with women, in favour of a simpler, tighter narrative.
Despite the lengthy run time and scope of the story, the director hits all the necessary notes without making them feel cheap. When the credits roll, it’s hard to believe how much has happened and that two and a half hours have gone by.
Boasting a stellar cast, brilliant script and smart pacing, Straight Outta Compton is a mostly traditional but effective film even if it isn’t as ground-breaking as it could be. There were a dozen more storylines in the N.W.A saga that could have been explored into stand-alone films. Hopefully, more stories can be told even if they don’t have hip-hop royalty Dr. Dre and Ice Cube behind them. Until then, bye Felicia.