Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Shipp, R Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr, Sheldon A Smith, Keith Stanfield, Tate Ellington, Corey Reynolds
Directed By: F Gary Gray
It’s all about opening the right movie at the right time, and Straight Outta Compton opened at the absolute right time. The film isn’t just about the rise of NWA. It’s also about the mistreatment of the black community in Los Angeles in the late 80’s, something that resonates today with the Black Lives Matter movement. A couple times in the film, our protagonists are harassed for no apparent reason whatsoever. They’re kicked, called names, and all without probable cause. If you want to know why people are still talking about Straight Outta Compton, it has a lot to do with the underlying theme of the movie, and not the rise and fall of NWA.
Not that the rise and fall of NWA isn’t interesting. In fact, I’d say Straight Outta Compton earns its right to sit at the top of the music bio category, alongside movies like 8 Mile, that bring such respect to the source material, and reality to the audience. It’s funny that a film can be this brutally honest, and still be endorsed by the surviving members of NWA. They’re completely OK with us seeing this side of them, because that’s been their message the whole time. Reality.
Obviously, O’Shea Jackson Jr is a revelation as Ice Cube, due in part to the fact he looks exactly like his father. Jason Mitchell delivers a strong performance as Eazy E. I had heard he was good, but most of his big moments come near the end of the film. So you might wonder why he was getting all the praise in the first half, but that’s because his character’s arc really hits home near the end of the film. Some of the members of NWA got marginalized though. I honestly couldn’t keep track of MC Ren or DJ Yella. It seemed like the film didn’t care either. The film is mostly about Ice Cube, Dre, and Eazy-E. The other members of NWA just drift through, but they don’t really have their own storylines. And while it was a small role, I thought Keith Stanfield did a great job portraying a young Snoop Dogg.
My biggest problem with the film was that it doesn’t quite work as a biopic of the entire NWA, because it treats MC Ren and DJ Yella as “lesser” characters. Sure, they’re not as popular now, but they get virtually no back story in this film at all. They don’t control the plot, contribute to the advancement of the story, or anything. The writers of this film couldn’t figure out an actual purpose for them except “they were there historically, so we have to write them in”. Ice Cube, Dre, and Eazy E all had stories, and character arcs. No matter how minor the other two were, they deserved their same shot at having some sort of character, and some sort of plot. They deserved to feel like lead characters.
Otherwise, Straight Outta Compton fires on all cylinders. It’s the best thing F Gary Gray has ever directed. I would have selected The Negotiator as probably being his most solid work before this, with Set It Off and Friday close behind. This is slightly above those three. I’m concerned that he’s directing Furious 8 after this, because he’s proven his knack for serious filmmaking now, and doesn’t need to do a franchise flick. But, whatever pays the bills I suppose.
Should Straight Outta Compton be nominated for Best Picture? No. I can think of at least 10 films I’d fill those spots with. However, should you see Straight Outta Compton? Definitely. Sometimes, we have to understand our history in order to keep us from repeating our mistakes. I think that’s probably what’s happening now, and if Straight Outta Compton can work its way into the mainstream and help in some way, then I think all the members of NWA would be proud.
FINAL GRADE: A-