Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins (Non-Stop), Jason Mitchell (Contraband), Neil Brown Jr. (Fast & Furious), Aldis Hodge (The East), Paul Giamatti (Sideways)
Director: F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job)
Writers: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center)
Runtime: 2 hours 27 minutes
Release Date: 14 August (US), 28 August (UK)
The fact that Straight Outta Compton isn’t aimed at my demographic isn’t lost on me. I certainly know who N.W.A. are and like some of their songs, but neither was I clamouring to see a movie about their life story. But the key to a great movie is making it interesting for anyone, not just those familiar with the subject matter, and Straight Outta Compton accomplishes that excellently. Musician biopics aren’t anything new, but this one makes a mark by being one of the first ones about a hip-hop group. But to simply call it a biopic is underselling the movie a bit, as it’s not only about N.W.A. and their work, but also about how their influence affected not only the music industry but also the culture in general around them.
The traditional rise-and-fall story of a music biopic is so ingrained in our minds at this point that it’s not even a surprise anymore, and Straight Outta Compton still follows that expected arc. It’s hard to argue when it’s a true story, but even with that said it was easy for even a layman to N.W.A. lore like me to see where the story was going. The film pulls the “pause for effect when somebody’s about to name something important” trick a few too many times for comfort, and when they bring out the old “indicate a character is sick by having them cough constantly” bit it was almost starting to feel like a parody. However, the film ultimately works despite these flaws. Firstly, despite the film’s almost two and a half hour run time, it’s snappy and well paced enough that you probably won’t notice. That break-neck pace means certain things feel a little glossed over (and certain other major, more suspect events completely omitted), but everything important impacts in all the right ways and keeps you invested in the story. But what ultimately makes the movie work on a story level is how it melds N.W.A.’s story with the current events of the time and their impact on each other. N.W.A. was a group very much inspired by the environment they lived in, and through their music they not only showed the rest of the planet what their world was but also created a lot of discussion about authority and censorship. It’s these elements that make Straight Outta Compton more than just a biopic. It’s a time capsule of an important part of American culture that touches on subjects that are arguably just as relevant now as they were back then.
N.W.A., as the third word of their name implies, were very much a group based around attitude, and our three main players certainly have enough of it. The idea of casting the role of Ice Cube with his own son may seem like a stunt on first thought, but O’Shea Jackson Jr. not only manages to capture his father beyond mere looks, he’s actually a much better dramatic actor than Ice Cube has ever been; it’s hard to call that based on one performance, but I think he proves it. Whilst Straight Outta Compton’s depiction of Dr. Dre does sweep a lot of the nastier parts of the person under the rug, Corey Hawkins portrayal of the character of Dr. Dre is excellent throughout even if you can’t quite shake the feeling of whitewash (this is kind of inevitable considering both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are producers on the movie). Jason Mitchell is the main standout as Easy E, giving the character a lot of troublemaker spirit whilst also nailing every dramatic scene thrown his way; it’s definitely a career-making performance. DJ Yella and MC Ren don’t get as much focus as the big three but Neil Brown Jr. and Aldis Hodge do well with what little material they’re given, and Paul Giamatti is perfect casting in the traditional “sleazy band manager” role.
In a movie about music you’ve got to have a great soundtrack. This movie does. Alongside playing all the hits from N.W.A. as well as Ice Cube and Dre’s solo careers, the film also has a great selection of songs from other period artists that help set the tone during the early scenes before the group makes it big. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is appropriately gritty and impactful whilst also looking cinematically beautiful, helped along with period-perfect production design and crisp, neat editing.
Straight Outta Compton works as a movie for fans of N.W.A. and as a well-made film on its own. Even if you don’t have much interest in rap and hip-hop, it’s an enjoyable ride from start to finish thanks to its clever social commentary and all-around solid performances from a group of promising up-and-comers. If you’re a fan of Cube and the gang, you’ve probably already made up your mind about seeing it, but if you’re on the fence I recommend that you give it a shot.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10