Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use
If you’re interested, then this movie will be interesting; at least for a while (more or less the first 90 minutes of this 2 ½ hour bio-“epic”. “Straight Outta Compton” tells the story of revolutionary rap group, N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dj Yella). Kicking off on the streets of Compton, California 1986 and documenting the groups rise as the pioneers of “gangsta rap”, their tumultuous break up, allegedly due to underhanded management from Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and introducing branches of rap legends which expanded from the N.W.A. tree, e.g. Snoop Dogg, Tu-Pac, etc. Problem is (much like that last sentence) the movie is just too damn long! And once Eazy-E starts coughing, the whole thing turns into an after school special, primarily due to an overarching repetitive atmosphere which director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off) seems to choose over subtlety more often than not.
There were a few sequences that made me lean forward in my seat (The live performance of “F— the Police”, for one) and the script itself from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center) does its job; even going above and beyond at times, inserting a few “audience winks” throughout (I mean, there’s even a “bye Felicia” joke thrown into the mix). But it was the acting which was undoubtedly the stand-out aspect of this movie, highlighted by a performance from Ice Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who, in his first ever acting gig, hits it out of the park playing his father.
Here’s the problem: The difference between “Straight Outta Compton” and an actual N.W.A. album is one carries a gritty, raw authenticity, and the other stars Paul Giamatti.
Not to say that there aren’t guns in this movie (or drugs or police brutality for that matter) but the fact that “Straight Outta Compton” looks so cinematic is an issue.
When comparing this to a movie like “Boyz n the Hood”, which while “fiction”, portrays an honest and personal look into the streets of Los Angeles during a similar time frame, I can safely say that I remember finding myself absolutely immersed in John Singleton’s depiction of said setting; to the point where by the end I felt as if I knew the neighborhood without even setting foot in the neighborhood. In retrospect this form of direction aided in my bond with other aspects of the film, acting as the connective tissue between me and the characters on screen.
“Straight Outta Compton” portrays true to life characters, all who actually grew up in Compton, but Gray’s glossy (and viciously repetitive) direction really gives viewers more of a distracting “XD” version of a story that deserved a grittier presentation.
Final Thought: It is obvious that Gray has a talent for music video direction and the cinematography here is technically perfect; just not for this movie, and thus curbing my viewing experience and creating a disconnect which resulted in me getting bored after the 90 minute mark.
By the way: Everyone who isn’t dead, in prison or white gets out of this film scot-free. And while I am not an expert on the breakup of N.W.A. (I was around 5 when it actually happened) the fact that this film took 10 years (as stated by Ice Cube himself) to make, leads me to believe a multitude of financial parties had to come to an agreement as to what could be shown and what past actions could do damage in the court of public opinion, and thus would need to be left on the cutting room floor. So, just a heads up: this is not a scathing expose detailing Dr. Dre’s abuse towards women, or anything like that. That said, this fact should not be held against the film itself, as it really has no bearing on ones viewing experience. Still, I believe that audiences have the right to know before entering the theater.
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus