Movie Review: “Straight Outta Compton” – Something Special

Written by Jesse Gelinas August 18, 2015

Poster for Straight Outta Compton Cruisin’ down the street in my 64…

“Straight Outta Compton” is the latest from director F Gary Gray (“Friday,” “Law Abiding Citizen”). You might also recognize it as the debut album of N.W.A., the rap group that became a national sensation, while pissing off the FBI and launching the careers of Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre. This biopic may be a bit standard in its formula, and its cherry-picking of history, but it’s all done so well, and with a talented young cast that brings these superstars to life in an impressive way.

The film opens up in Compton, California in 1986 with Eric Wright (aka Eazy-E) trying to complete a drug deal. We’re soon introduced to Andre Young (Dr. Dre), and O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), two young musicians who just want to get their reality rap out there. The three friends come together with Dre’s beats, Cube’s rhymes, and Eazy-E’s amateur vocals to make a track that takes off immediately. N.W.A. is born, and rap is forever changed. “Straight Outta Compton” follows these three through the highs and lows of their friendships and careers, never losing sight of where they came from and what rap means to them.

“Yo, Dre! I got something to say.”

The film hits all the standard biopic tropes. We’re watching these poor young fellows, dreaming of bigger things. They finally get their shot, and trough hard work and raw talent they make it bigger than they ever dreamed. They hit all the pitfalls of stardom, tearing their friendships asunder and attracting hate and persecution from those who don’t understand their message. Of course all these things are true, but still. “Straight Outta Compton” pulls few punches (except ones that wouldn’t really “serve the narrative”), and manages to tell an engaging, touching story about a trio of young gangsters.

O'Shea Jackson Jr plays his father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton

I have to say, I loved the way the film incorporated N.W.A.’s big songs. We get to see a few liver performances, and recording sessions, as well as a couple scenes where the literally just sit and listen to their hits. It still never feels forced, and actually serves to authenticate the film, and give us a glimpse into what made these guys so special. The first time we get to hear Fuck tha Police is an oddly powerful scene. Following the group’s breakup, we also get to see the vastly different solo careers each man had, which of course has us running into other stars like Suge Knight, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac.

“This Crenshaw Mafia dude came on the bus, pulled a gun on us, gave a motivational speech, and then bunked off.”

The cast makes this film, and elevates it from good to great. Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are terrific as Dre and E respectively. O’Shea Jackson Jr is perfect as his father Ice Cube. It may help that he looks and sounds exactly like him (uncannily so), but he delivers an honest, impressive performance. Paul Giamatti is wonderfully hateable as manager Jerry Heller, and rounds out the cast well. The performances are all so pitch perfect that it’s easy to forget you’re watching young actors, and not the men themselves.

Eazy E in Straight Outta Compton

In the end, “Straight Outta Compton” may not tell the complete story, and it may spare us some of the more grisly exploits of the group, but it paints a hell of a picture and manages to hit all the right notes. The cast brings to life some larger than life characters, while managing to entertain and impress. Fans of the music won’t be disappointed, and outsiders should appreciate the story and the comradery, highs and lows, that the N.W.A. went through on the path from Compton to superstardom.

My Rating: 9/10

Cast and subjects of Straight Outta Compton

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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