STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
*** (out of 5)
August 14, 2015
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as ICE CUBE
Corey Hawkins as DR. DRE
Jason Mitchell as EASY-E
Paul Giamatti as JERRY HELLER
Neil Brown Jr. as DJ YELLA
Aldis Hodge as MC REN
Marlon Yates Jr. as THE D.O.C.
R. Marcos Taylor as SUGE KNIGHT
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve never been a big fan of rap music in general, so aside from coming back from class to often see one of my college roommates (a white kid from the suburbs, of course) reciting the lyrics while the album burst from his stereo, I had very little exposure to NWA and the associated groups. However, having lived through the late 80s and early 90s, I cannot deny the impact that these artists had on hip hop music, the industry in general and the overall mainstream popular culture.
Still, I went into “Straight Outta Compton” knowing very little about the story behind NWA. What I got was a fairly routine musician biopic, with the standard problems facing the artists that came from nothing (e.g., smarmy record companies, being swindled by a manager, struggling with their newfound fame, partying too hard, political infighting among the groups’ members, etc.). However, to the fan of the group and the music in general, this will be a rich and fascinating study.
The story follows NWA from their humble beginnings in Compton, California, the ghetto of Los Angeles. They took the music world by storm, eventually breaking into the mainstream. While the group came under fire from newscasters, the police, the FBI and many other people, they splintered into a variety of solo acts that found their own fame.
While a lot of this is familiar ground for musician biopics, director F. Gary Gray does a commendable job telling the story of a group of people rather than a single artist. Unlike “Walk the Line,” which only has to deal with Johnny Cash’s story, “Straight Outta Compton” manages to give equal weight to Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Easy-E (Jason Mitchell), at the same time giving supporting note to MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) as well as offering a barrage of character cameos from Snoop Dogg to Tupac.
Also commendable is the fact that while the movie does often tell limited sides to the story and goes out of its way to make the characters the heroes, they are not always presented in the nicest light. This group was born in a world of violence, and that bled into their adult lives as well as their business.
Of course, the villains of the movie are also the guiding forces to the group in the form of sleazy manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and aggressive thug record producer Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). We see even more familiar territory as Giamatti plays a different version of Pig Vomit from the Howard Stern movie “Private Parts,” but that’s because he plays it so well.
The film gets heavy-handed at times, especially in showing the group’s dealings with the LAPD as well as the Detroit police in their infamous arrest when they played their song “Fuck the Police” at a concert. However, this is to be expected for a profile piece of this type.
Overall, “Straight Outta Compton” is a well directed and powerful musical biopic with some great performances and a presentation that will make the fans go wild. It runs a bit too long, but that’s more from having to cover so much ground with the various members of the group than overstaying its welcome.