Starring O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown, Paul Giamatti, R. Marcos Taylor. Directed by F. Gary Gray. (2015, 147 min/167 min). UNIVERSAL
I'm not a fan of rap music at all, but absolutely loved Straight Outta Compton.
Great music bios transcend music genres with a riveting story and present its subjects as rounded, three-dimensional characters. The best ones instill a respect & appreciation for what that artist was able to accomplish, even if the viewer doesn't necessarily care for that particular type of music. As such, Straight Outta Compton may be the best musical biography since Coal Miner's Daughter.
While it didn't have me rushing out to pick up an N.W.A. album, Straight Outta Compton does a tremendous job helping me understand just how groundbreaking the group really was, as well as their massive impact on rap music and pop culture (which one could argue is still felt today). It chronicles the humble origins of N.W.A. (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre & Eazy-E being the primary focus), their rapid rise to fame, ensuing controversy over their image & lyrics, and finally, their somewhat acrimonious break-up, leading to a surprisingly emotional resolution. Not just Eazy-E's tragic fate; we're also left with the conclusion that, had outside influences (such as Suge Knight) not torn the group apart from within, N.W.A.'s full potential was just beginning.
Director F. Gary Gray (who's always been criminally underrated) presents the story on a nearly epic scale. From the dark, foreboding streets of Compton where police presence puts everyone on-edge, to the spectacular and rousing concert scenes, we feel like we've been transported back to the late 80s and are right there among the action.
But none of this authenticity would have mattered without a compelling story and dynamic characters. Straight Outta Compton is much more than a checklist of events in a musician's career...the racial climate & tension in L.A., which influenced a lot of N.W.A.'s lyrics, is nearly omnipresent. Even such a spoiled suburbanite as myself could understand what fueled Ice Cube's angriest rhymes. He was there, as were all the other members, and experienced this shit every day...and they never forgot it. Speaking of which, no film amounts to much without characters we care about. Despite N.W.A.'s gangsta reputation, for the most part, we really like these guys because we get to know them long before they achieve any kind of fame. Sure, they're sometimes violent and make some dumb decisions from an outsider's perspective, but their musical integrity is never in question. Ice Cube (played by his son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., whose resemblance to Cube is uncanny) is probably the most likeable, even when he's smashing up his manager's office with a baseball bat. Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E does a tremendous job as the one member whose life is eventually (and literally) consumed by fame.
Ultimately, you know you're watching a great film when two-and-a-half hours fly by and you're disappointed that it has to end, something I didn't expect from a movie about gangsta rap artists. Straight Outta Compton is not-only a perfectly-realized look at bygone era when an entire rap subgenre was being created, but a flat-out terrific film and marvelously entertaining. Even if you profess to hate everything about rap music, this is great stuff. Shame on the Academy for not at-least giving it a nomination for Best Picture.
- Numerous Featurettes: "NWA The Origins"; "Impact"; "A Director's Journey"; "The Streets: Filming in Compton"; "Becoming NWA"
- NWA Performance in Detroit
- Deleted Scenes
- Audio Commentary by F. Gary Gray
- 167 minute Director's Cut
- DVD & Digital Copies