Straight Outta Compton (2015)
R / 147 mins.
Biography / Drama / Music
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Director: F. Gary Gray
Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it is today without the heavy influence and trailblazing nature of the rap group N.W.A. It’s a simple fact that’s hard to dispute, no matter how hard you try. They gave a voice to the people, a voice that people from Compton (and all over the U.S.) could rally behind in the late 80’s. The ragtag group, consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, were just looking to make it big in the streets of Compton, but it was there unique message that propelled them into the country’s spotlight.
Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A.’s rise to fame, directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and widow Tomica Woods-Wright, wife to the late Eazy-E. With that kind of pedigree off screen, the film already had a lot of things going for it. This isn’t Gray’s first radio, having directed Friday with Ice Cube back in the day, and having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing the movie gave me full confidence that the story of the world’s most dangerous group was going to be handled with finesse and care. The one big question when it comes to biopics is whether or not the story is worth telling. It’s the story and the way that it’s told that can make or break a biopic. N.W.A.’s story has been well documented and publicized up to this point, but Straight Outta Compton dives a little deeper and gives us a look not only at the group’s rise to fame, but their personal stories as well.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is the top notch acting that came from a cast full of lesser-known actors. Aside from Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father in the movie and Paul Giamatti’s part as the group’s manager Jerry Heller, the rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene. Let me break it down: Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell, DJ Yella by Neil Brown Jr., and MC Ren by Aldis Hodge. The cast might not be as well known, but they all did a fantastic job at embodying the legends that they were acting as. Obviously they had mentors in Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but there was an incredible amount of practice and studying that went into their characters. Their mannerisms, personalities, and musical styles were all matched pretty realistically. Two other rappers that garner some screen time are Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose), who looks eerily similar to his real life counterpart. It could have just been Tupac’s hologram, I don’t really know. (I do know I am excited for Tupac’s standalone movie, where Marcc Rose will reprise his role as Tupac)
Another thing that was sort of surprising is that the movie really wasn’t entirely focused on N.W.A. The first act detailed the creation of the group and its rise to prominence. We got to see some of the situations that the guys were coming from and how much this group meant to them. The movie then began to focus on what happened when a group of street rappers from Compton got a ton of money and a big spotlight. Ice Cube was in disagreement with his contractual situation and decided to branch of on his own. Dr. Dre’s vision also propelled him to leave the group and pursue his own musical genius at Death Row Records. We also got to see Eazy-E’s relationship with the scumbag manager that was Jerry Heller. The guy was manipulative and started cheating the group of their own money. The scenes involving Eazy-E and Jerry were fun to watch, but also kind of depressing considering you knew that there close relationship wasn’t going to last forever. Anybody who knows N.W.A. knew there was a lot of internal conflict between the group’s members and Straight Outta Compton manages to capture their stories with near perfect execution.
This movie couldn’t have been coming out at a better time. The country has been experiencing a lot of turmoil when it comes to blacks living in America and police brutality. The movie captures angst and the feelings that guys like Ice Cube and Eazy-E had towards the authorities that were looking to bring them down. We also start to see the government’s involvement in the group’s message. It was a scary time for the government. They were scared that this message, reality rap, could spark a revolution in the country that they wouldn’t be able to handle. N.W.A.’s influence on the masses was undeniable and pretty large.
I was pleasantly surprised that the movie, which has a pretty long run time, went as far as to cover Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV and his imminent death. Those last moments with Eazy-E on his death bed and guys like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre coming in to say their goodbyes were heartfelt and, at times, hard to watch. Straight Outta Compton is a fantastic movie that will most likely take the torch as my favorite movie of the year so far. It’s a gritty story full of hardship and triumph. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have coming a long way from their gangbanging days and their stories, along with the rest of N.W.A, are unresistingly intriguing and fun to watch. You will probably appreciate this movie more if you are a fan of rap, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry. Straight Outta Compton is a movie worth watching no matter where your musical tastes lie.