Sunday, November 22, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton is pretty straightforward as far as music biopics go. Produced by members of the band, who at this point have long put aside the differences that produce much of the conflict over the movie's 147-minute running time, Straight Outta Compton does deliver on an inside look at the rise and implosion of N.W.A. and the individual careers the breakthrough group launched. However, it also takes a bit too much care to make sure no one (with the exception of California law enforcement) comes off too poorly once all is said and done. I get the feeling had the film been made when emotions were at their peak the movie might more resemble the group's music and be more emotionally raw offering audiences a starker look at life behind-the-scenes.

One of the biggest strengths of director F. Gary Gray's film is the cast (O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella, R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, and Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller) most of whom bare a striking resemblance to their real-world counterparts and sell us on the complicated relationships of the group and their musical ability.

The script from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff takes us through the basic stages of a biopic including the formation of the band, it's early success, internal conflict, trouble with money, violence, and drugs, the inevitable break-up of the band, and eventually its reunion. The script also successfully recreates the violence and racism in southern California which forged the group and led to N.W.A's biggest (and most controversial) hit "Fuck tha Police."

Straight Outta Compton is a solid film punctuated by its music and performances. Given the involvement of the surviving members of the band, and the type of chances each took with their music, I don't think its unfair to be slightly disappointed that the movie doesn't have more to say or its refusal to any chances to break-out of the basic structure of any other number of biopics, playing it safe in a way their music never did. And the film's depiction of women, none of whom apparently played any real role in the success of the band, is certainly a weakness. Still, for both fans of the musicians and those curious to relive the rise of some of the biggest names in rap, there's plenty to enjoy here.

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