REVIEW: Straight Outta Compton
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Emerging from Compton, Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, NWA revolutionised rap culture with their music and tales about life on the streets. This biopic, directed by F. Gary Gray, is more relevant today than ever. Black artists expressing themselves in a time of police brutality, harassment, media spin, social unrest, it's scary how it all mirrors recent events. It's not all a sociopolitical commentary though, it's about the art of young men who dreamt of bigger things, the early days of laying down beats in the bedroom, the first gig, the recording sessions. And then the fame and fortune, the sex and drugs, the threats and violence.
A lot of ground is covered in the 2 hours and 27 minutes runtime: Eazy-E meeting Dr Dre and Ice Cube, the recording of Straight Outta Compton, the touring and FBI threats, the breakup of NWA, Cube's solo success, Dre signing with Suge Knight's Death Row records and the fallout, working with Snoop Dogg and Tupac, Eazy's death from AIDs. The film picks up in speed and left me asking for a slower pace, mainly in the second half. It's annoying that melodrama is favoured instead of real incidents swept to the side: Dre's violent encounter with a woman journalist, Eazy E's diss track about Dre, Cube's and Dre's music that was influenced by the LA Riots (although the Rodney King trial and riots are played out in the background). Even if all that was included, there would still be those complaints of "Ah but what about the misogyny! And the homophobic lyrics!?" etc. It's a tough and complex task, but what's here is what matters the most: the relationships and the music.
The performances of Ice Cube (played by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) cannot be faulted. Each one dishes out pulsating rage and energy throughout, from the desperate hard times to the excessive good times. These young men have come out of nowhere to carry this film with their chemistry and it's impressive, especially Corey Hawkins who is (only slightly) the standout. Paul Giamatti plays their shady manager Jerry Heller, who is at the core of the conflict and mistrust that engulfs the band later on.
The soundtrack, mostly NWA material and tracks from Dr Dre's new release 'Compton', keeps the action and drama together at all times. Live performances of their classic anthems like Straight Outta Compton or the studio session for Fuck The Police as the band hits their groove, it's all seamless and entertaining. This is obviously coming from a fan of the music, how non rap fans will react is for someone else to review!
Although not perfect and history being tweaked to appeal to a larger audience, barring sequels and franchise blockbusters, Straight Outta Compton is one of the best films of the year so far.