Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti, Marlon Yates, Jr.
Rated: R (language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use)
The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
Straight Outta Compton
By Matt Greene
Straight Outta Compton is a musical biopic whose story not only supports the subject’s songwriting, but deeply informs it. Individual moments drip with power as we see the shock of the supposed post-racial culture on these talented young men. The music itself is a punch to the ribs, with a liveliness that is beyond contagious. So even as SOC suffers the classic biopic problems of losing focus and cohesion, it overcomes its undeniable faults by being piercingly memorable, strongly thematic, and pulsing with dramatic life.
The beat of the film captures what happens when justifiably and systemically volatile young men come into positions of immense power. All the while, we are essentially given a nostalgic history lesson in early-90’s pop culture. Some of the dialogue and biopic clichés seem to come straight out of parodic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but the beautiful direction and fantastic casting skillfully cover over the weak script. Documentary-like at times, the interplay between the near-perfectly cast NWA members is funny and real. Each of the three core members (Easy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube) are so complex I wish we followed each of them individually in overlapping narratives over different films, negating some of its plot-focus issues.
Luckily, where the story gets sloppy, the themes stay solid, never resorting to easy answers or morality tropes when trying to understand the complex (and sadly timely) relationship between race and society. Kinetic and vital, SOC is an epic warning about success that could make waves the way its titular album did upon initial release.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Straight Outta Compton
By Cole Schneider
The surprise blockbuster hit, “Straight Outta Compton” begins as brash and unapologetic as the album it’s named after. The biopic following N.W.A. members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube is funny, socially aware, and altogether entertaining. It’s the kind of film that can stand on its own at any point in cinema’s history, but which seems to have come out at the perfect time in American history.
The film’s messages of art-as-reflection-of-life and censorship-as-a-contradiction-of-freedoms, as well as its willful participation in the current #blacklivesmatter conversation may be blunt, but it all rings as powerful today as it did when Eazy-E was spitting rhymes that made white America queasy. It’s more resonant moments come when white supremacy is ubiquitous, as in America today or in Paul Giamatti’s character who’s mixed advocacy encapsulates so much racial truth it’s scary.
As true and as daring as much of “Straight Outta Compton” is though, it’s equally guilty of the same mistakes so many biopics have made before. The back half of the film drags as it tries to manipulate fresh drama and ultimately falls into a hagiography that confirms it has gone too long. When the three artists are together there is a vibrancy to their chemistry, but once the narrative demands they be apart the film really suffers. Nonetheless, there is an undeniable artistic spirit pumping through the bloodstream of the film and a pressing social responsibility to lend it your eyes and ears. It seems be selling out theaters the same way N.W.A. used to sell out stadiums.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars