I’m pretty sure Compton will be proud. Hell, the West Coast will be proud.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge”…
When I heard the voice of the late, great Eazy-E say those iconic words as the film began, I thought to myself, “Shiiit, it’s on!”. I felt chills and excitement as I was finally witnessing Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic that I’ve been anticipating for years, ever since it was announced by former group members, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. I am a die-hard fan N.W.A., the infamous Gangsta Rap group that was not only a significant part of West Coast Hip Hop music and culture, but an influential group that served as the voice of those living in the ghettos of Los Angeles. They spoke out against police brutality and the injustices of the system, as well as paint a vivid picture on gang life and criminal activity they witnessed in their neighborhoods. I also practically idolize Ice Cube. Who is one of my all-time favorite emcee’s in Hip Hop, as well as an entertainer I look up to. So the question is, can I review this film with the knowledge that not everyone is a biased fan of N.W.A. fan like me, and some people just want to know if this film is worth seeing?
Bet your ass I can, and it’s not too hard because I’m gonna say it right now, Straight Outta Compton is a great fucking movie!
F. Gary Gray directs this music biopic that chronicles nearly everything you need to know about the group and most of its members between the years of 1986 through 1995, the time of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s passing from AIDS. It deals with the creation of their music, run-ins with the law, contract disputes, loyalty issues, tragedy, pretty much the basics of any music biopic. And like most music biopics, there are clichés and tropes. There are scenes that may make you question the authenticity of the story. Since I am a fan of N.W.A., and I’ve read countless articles, seen numerous interviews and documentaries, I pretty much know my history on the matter. So I can say most of the events depicted in this film did happen, according to various sources. Some of the events are a little over dramatized, while some feel very real and invoke plenty of emotion. One scene in particular deals with police officers harassing the group outside of a recording studio. You will feel the intensity of that scene, might even get angry with the insults thrown at the group. But that’s the beauty of that scene. Top it off with an outstanding performance from Paul Giamatti, who plays Jerry Heller, the group’s manager and co-founder of Ruthless Records. He’s terrific throughout the film, but in that particular scene, he is a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with.
Since I brought up Giamatti’s performance, might as well get into the other performers of the film. It’s important to acknowledge that most of the actors in the film are either very new to acting or have only had bit parts in the past. O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s real-life son, portrays his father, and I mean, who better than a guy who is also a rapper, but also looks exactly like his dad? But it’s not just about looks, he fully captured every aspect of his father, to the point where I felt like I was watching archive footage of Cube from back in the day. Every mannerism, including Cube’s signature mean-mugging stare, is accounted for. As a character in the film, he is most entertaining out of the bunch to watch and has some awesome standout moments. Corey Hawkins play’s Dr. Dre. A lot of people are saying he doesn’t look the part. I’m tellin’ ya, it doesn’t matter, he’s everything I’d imagine a young Dre would be like. Hawkins brings a lot of emotional depth in his portrayal of the iconic producer. Now let’s talk about Jason Mitchell, who portrays Eazy-E. Holy Christcrackers, it’s like the spirit of Eazy-E has entered this young actor. Mitchell nails it as the charismatic but hot-headed gangsta. He also brings a lot of humanity towards Eazy, and this performance truly honors his memory. Hardcore fans of Eazy-E are going to love it.
Straight Outta Compton is a very well made biopic that’s both entertaining and emotionally impactful. F. Gary Gray has directed some pretty great films, such as The Italian Job, Set It Off, The Negotiator, and of course, the classic 1995 comedy Friday, which starred Ice Cube. He’s also directed a few not-so-great films, but either way, he’s always been a talented director with an eye for stylish storytelling. I feel like he’s taken all of his best qualities as a filmmaker and fully utilized them in this film. The writing is pretty damn great. The dialogue comes off as very natural and honest. There’s a lot of humor mixed in beautifully with the drama. The pacing is very fast for a film with a 2 ½ hour running time. From the rise to fame, the downfall of the group, showcasing the artists’ personal lives, pursuits of their solo projects and personal struggles, it never gets dull. Oh, and the music… If you’re an N.W.A. fan, get yo’ ass in a theater with a good sound system, do not be cheap and bootleg this movie, because you will be rewarded by feeling the Dre’s beats bump hard in the theater. When Eazy performs “Boyz-in-the-Hood”, I promise you, you’ll bob you head and become fully invested in the film.
Now with the greatness of this film, there are some imperfections which can be expected from a music biopic. As I mentioned before, some scenes seem a bit over dramatic, and have a tone with words and actions that would only seem logical in a movie. I would counter my own criticism though by saying you’ll want this film to be entertaining and not come off as cheap candid footage. Also, because the film has to have a reasonable length and there’s so much history involving the group, there is a lot of events that are kind of glossed over and rushed in order to get to the next event. One of the biggest complaints I have, and I knew damn well this was going to happen… (Deep sigh)… Because the film focuses so heavily on Eazy, Dre and Cube, members MC Ren and DJ Yella are reduced to background characters, though Yella has some funny lines. Ugh, I really wanted the film to be fair and showcase their talents more, but sadly, they got the short end of the stick.
Now this section will contain some slight spoilers which won’t really ruin the film, especially if you already know the history of N.W.A. But I have some thoughts on specific events that I have to share. If you don’t want any part of the film spoiled, by all means, skip to the final paragraph, and check this section out later once you’ve seen the film.
Okay, let’s go…
One of the most fascinating events that happened during the time N.W.A. was in effect was when Ice Cube left the group. He left under circumstances that were reasonable to any business minded person, but during the time, the rest of the group didn’t see it that way. What resulted was a major beef between Cube and the group once a diss track aimed at Cube was recorded. Cube, who never intended to say anything ill towards his former group members, responded with the ultimate classic diss track “No Vaseline”. That part of the story is captured brilliantly in the film. O’Shea Jackson Jr. lip syncs the song but shows a lot of passion as he stands in the recording booth, rapping the words his daddy wrote out of anger. It sent chills down my spine as I bobbed my head to the song, which I’m happy to say, most of the song is played. Then we come to the biggest disappointment I had with the film. The massive beef between Eazy and Dre that took place between ’93 and ’94, was never touched upon. Oh, that made me kinda upset. It’s a known fact that Dre hates talking about the beef and is ashamed it happened, so maybe out of respect to the memory of Eazy-E, they left it out, but I mean, it was such a pivotal moment in their careers and their history, I can’t believe they didn’t even mention it.
Now the final events I want to mention before your eyes bleed from reading this long ass review is when Eazy finds out he has AIDS, and when Dre says his goodbyes. First off, when the doctor tells Eazy the horrible news, the performance of Jason Mitchell is elevated to an almost Oscar worthy level. The angry and desperation he displayed felt to true, I got choked up. I’m tearing up while typing this damned thing, man. Add the emotional goodbye Corey Hawkins as Dre delivers and I had to hold back from balling like a baby. I didn’t expect to tear up for this film, but dammit, I did, and I’m proud to say that because a lot of music biopics force that emotional out of you, while this film does it naturally.
I do apologize for this long review, but I had so much to say on this film, and I didn’t even cover it all. This film meant a lot to me as a fan of N.W.A. and someone who loves biopics. Although, there are some significant issues, the qualities the film gets right make up for the few they stumbled on. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were very hands-on as the producers of the film, as well as DJ Yella and MC Ren being consultants. It’s because of that, the film shines as the definitive dramatization of N.W.A.
Straight Outta Compton will be in theaters August 14th.
My Rating: 4.5 outta 5
Click here to watch a collab video review I did with MovieManCHAD