Straight Outta Compton Plot:
Based on a true story, and the early formation of NWA, one of the most influential rap groups in music history, focusing on their controversial lyrics, the inner turmoil between founding members, and the ups and downs of each artist’s individual career.
If there was ever a musical biopic that needed to be told, this would be it. The formation of NWA in the late 1980’s was certainly one of the milestones of not just hip hop, but music itself. The beginning of the so called “gangsta rap” certainly ruffled the feathers of many, but its legacy is cemented forever, as the film focuses primarily on the founding members, all of whom grew up in Compton, which influenced their harsh, controversial gangland lyrics. While this film rides mostly off the greatness of its subject matter, and suffers the common flaw of running too long, it has many great moments to be sure. Whatever problems the film may have, it always keeps your interest.
The film wisely locks in on the big three of the group, which includes Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), who really serves as the true protagonist. I love the mood and tension all their introductions serve. They set up Compton efficiently and emotionally, as you immediately get drawn into their worlds. It’s not just the constant gangs, guns and racist cops they encounter though. It’s the subtle touches, as the first time we see Dr. Dre, he’s lying on the floor imitating beats from his headphones. That’s the kind of stuff that immediately endears you to a character, so when all these guys get together for their first recording session, you’re hooked into their friendship throughout the whole movie, making their conflicts that much stronger.
The acting was a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, these guys do a great job. Mitchell, who plays Eazy-E, was probably the best, as his character is given the most meat. He’s reluctant to perform at first, then gets too big for his britches, but comes full circle as a highly sympathetic figure, and Mitchell emulates all of it perfectly. Hawkin’s performance as Dr. Dre was more understated, which I liked, but when he had to get into the big moments, it’s not pretty. There’s one scene where he’s dealing with a death, and Hawkins just can’t pull it off. The performance I’m still unsure about is Jackson Jr., who plays Ice Cube, the most well-known member of the group, as we also know him from films. There were moments he captured Ice Cube beautifully, it was uncanny. Other times though, it felt a bit SNL-ish, as he over did the Ice Cube mannerisms. Funnily enough, it’s Ice Cube’s son who actually plays him, so who the hell am I to question the portrayal of his own dad?!
The other performance of note was Paul Giamatti, who’s fantastic as always. Giamatti plays Jerry Heller, the manager of NWA. He plays the character likable enough early on, but also has that slime ball quality. This is a key role, as it creates most of the conflicts throughout the film, causing each member to splinter off into their own.
This is where the film becomes a bit too jumbled, almost acting as three movies. While each member faces a variety of problems, whether it be money, uncontrollable business partners, or Ice Cube flying off the handle, it feels more like a check list of all the important milestones in everybody’s careers, causing the film to meander along, until the last fifteen minutes when it finally locks in on an emotional climax. It just feels like events are randomly thrown in here. Dr. Dre gets arrested for speeding at one point, but then it never gets mentioned again. It serves absolutely no purpose. The Rodney King incident from 1991 also serves as a constant backdrop, which makes sense in relation to NWA’s music, but it doesn’t serve the story at all.
While the movie fizzles out in the last third, it’s most powerful when focused on the actual music, and its impact. I loved seeing the formation, real or not, of some NWA’s most famous songs, such as “F**k the Police,” which also leads to the best scene of the film when they perform in Detroit. This could have been one of the best movies of the year had the script been given a couple more drafts, as the dialogue is also laid on pretty thick. Nevertheless, it’s a great first half, and if you’re a diehard fan of the real life individuals and their music, you will love this film.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)