Straight Outta Compton Review

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

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Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray’s newest film about the prolific hip-hop group NWA, immediately submerges you into mid-eighties Los Angeles. Drugs, gangs, abrasive police, class divide; Gray takes you to an impressionable and visceral slice of the past that is the life and inspiration of the NWA’s distinct lyrical sound and attitude. From the start, the film promises a gritty biopic of the group’s history and christening of “the most dangerous group.” Like many biopics, unfortunately, it plays too safe.

The drama centers on the group’s rise from the streets to national stardom and cementing themselves in the cultural imprint of hip-hop with the anger and frustration of black youth and refusal to hold back against censorship, the police and their own personal interests. Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are the main focus of the film, and the performances are not only convincing, but grab your attention to the uncanny resemblance to their life counterparts. Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) especially provides a strong screen presence of someone driven to make a name for himself, but is caught in excess.

Straight Outta Compton is stylish and fast. Gray’s depiction of NWA’s creativity in the studio is both playful and fluid when showing each member’s influence. The bouncing of personalities and staging of historical hip-hop songs are nothing but fun to watch unfold, and the aha moments the birth of certain tracks stand out amongst the personal drama. This energy is parallel to the live tour performances, which are beautifully shot and choreographed to match the power and vibe of NWA. Certain scenes are so fun and visually striking that you believe the film is at the beginning of a giant moment. This moment never comes.

Although political and historical exposition is told through the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots, the film doesn’t hold the attention of its promising first act. When the group gains success and the story delves into the backstabbing within the group and through shady music manager Jerry Heller, the drama becomes boring. The remainder of the film goes back and forth between their personal battles and new individual paths. This may be historically accurate, but it doesn’t provide a meaty story, and it’s easy to doubt the violence, misogyny and darker side of the group wouldn’t go through producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Besides Eazy-E’s struggle with illness and dwindling partnerships with everyone around him, the conclusion of NWA’s story seems unfocused and rushed.

Straight Outta Compton still engages for a while. There couldn’t have been a better cast, and Gray’s visual aesthetic really puts you into the time and place in history. Unfortunately, generic biopic resolutions play it too safe to provide an engaging enough finish to a story being worthy of exploring.

By Alex Gougeon. Alex is a Toronto-Based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music who’s recent reviews include Death Grips and the film Slow West for Step On magazine.