Straight Outta Compton (2015)

straightouttacompton_2015_poster
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
  • Time: 147 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Music
  • Director: F. Gary Gray
  • Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

Storyline:

In 1987, five young men, using brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats, put their frustration and anger about life in the most dangerous place in America into the most powerful weapon they had: their music. Taking us back to where it all began, Straight Outta Compton tells the true story of how these cultural rebels-armed only with their lyrics, swagger, bravado and raw talent-stood up to the authorities that meant to keep them down and formed the world’s most dangerous group, N.W.A. And as they spoke the truth that no one had before and exposed life in the hood, their voice ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today.

2 reviews

  • Biography adapted films are sometimes risky depending on the topic. The biggest risk is making sure that all events related to whomever the biography is about are true. For this to work there are a couple of factors that need to be considered. First is the time period. Depending on the time period, certain events and facts may be difficult to research. Second are the people being portrayed. For individuals that have never been heard of before, the only way for someone to know how to portray them is by studying records of their behavior and then interpret it themselves. However, for more recent times it has been a lot easier for such access to various information. Then again, there is no greater person to help with this kind of project than the person themselves. Take it from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who produce this movie about themselves, when they went from the bottom straight to the top in the rap group Ruthless & N.W.A.

    There really is no better way to make a film about yourself other than directly being involved with it. Then add F. Gary Gray as director with writers Jonathan Herman (his first writing credit) and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center (2006)) and you have a recipe for successful storytelling. It’s quite a feat considering only one writer had a credential that showed promise. F. Gary Gray was a nice choice due to his work in other films and his best known film to date being Friday (1995), which also starred Ice Cube. For a biopic on a group of artists, it has a natural tendency to educate audiences (especially the ignorant ones) about why Ruthless & N.W.A. acted the way they did and why they did it. The main plot is about how Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren and Eazy-E rise, fall and recover from their fame after making a name for themselves. Specifically, the music they would create related to the people being oppressed by the police officials in Compton California.

    This section of writing is what really the educational part of the story is. As displayed throughout the film, for those who were not aware of the situation going on in California, many considered Ruthless & N.W.A. pimps that glamorized and emphasized the negatives in life. But as clearly stated by one character, “Our art is a reflection of our reality”. It does not get any more real than that. Along this being its strongest element, it is also its weakest because that particular social undercurrent is not focused on enough. The rest of writing analyzes the rest of the characters from startup and separation of paths. This is fine and develops its characters, but in some ways it feels like it slights the main point. That’s not to say the actors that play the characters aren’t noteworthy though. Playing Ice Cube is his son O’Shea Jackson Jr. who can not only act but (thankfully) shares his father’s looks as well. Along side Jackson Jr. is Corey Hawkins (as Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (as Eazy-E), Neil Brown Jr. (DJ Yella), and Aldis Hodge (MC Ren). All of which have great chemistry with each other and all act with true emotion.

    The only other actor who has almost the same amount of screen time with them is Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, Ruthless & N.W.A.’s first producer. Giamatti as Heller is convincing in his role and does play a significant part in the groups history. The only thing that doesn’t look right is Giamatti’s horrendous looking wig. It just looks too fake to be his. Couldn’t there have been another wig that looked more realistic? And just for fun there are a bunch of other references either to past events or nods to other celebrities. There’s (not real) appearances of Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) head of Death Row Records, Tupac (Marcc Rose), Snoop Dog (Keith Stanfield), mentions of Boyz n the Hood (1991) etc. For those who remember those moments and enjoy revisiting the past, the nostalgia will be memorable.

    Matthew Libatique is credited as the director of photography for this production. For all of Libatique’s camerawork, there’s great lighting, and an exceptional demonstration of showing the transitions that went through the artists lives from beginning to the end of the movie. For the scope that the camera captures, ranges. There’s a mix of wide panning shots but only to show the scale at which events were occurring. There’s also shaky-cam effects, which although aren’t welcome most of the time, end up doing okay for the moments that call for them. This usually involves frantic scenes but that’s it. The music, of which this biopic is based on definitely has the beats. Although the soundtrack music is mostly lip-synched to the actors, it feels authentic. Joseph Tranpanese composed the film score although there were not a lot of scenes that needed instrumental music. Trapanese just fills in for the sentimental and tense moments. It’s the usual cues but all anonymous and that’s good since it’s a biopic on rap music.

    Aside from the writing’s initial social undercurrent that is unfortunately let go of over time and Paul Giamatti’s awful looking wig, it is a well made film. The actors have authentic chemistry with each other, the music has catchy beats, the camerawork is well lit and a lot of its writing paints an educational picture about the ups and downs of the fame life.

    Points Earned –> 8:10

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆½ out of 4)

    This film is highly recommended.

    In brief: The film doesn’t play straight with the facts but it is superior filmmaking.

    GRADE: B+

    Now I should say straight out that rap music is not my particular inclination when I want to hear some songs. (Honestly, I’m more a Broadway show tunes and R & B type of listener.) With that in mind, I went to see this movie with some trepidation and found it to be involving and yet riveting in a detached way.

    And boy, did I feel old watching Straight Out of Compton. Resembling a wannabe Barbara Billingsley jive lady, I felt out of sync with the rhythm and rhyme, a genuine generational relic ready for the scrapheap of life. Let me state upfront that the film does have its flaws: All of the characters and their attitudes in this film were an unpleasant lot, off-putting and repellent people with very little remorse for their actions or possessing any redeeming values other than their passion for their art. The film also takes its subtle glorification of these real life boyz-from-the-hood and their pro-drug life-styles to some exaggerated heights without showing the ramifications of their actions, which I found slightly disturbing. But the film’s many assets outweigh some minor missteps along the way.

    Straight Out of Compton takes place in 1986 and shows the origins of the hip hop music industry. It’s the beginnings of gangsta rap, with lyrics laced with profanity and urging violence acts against the establishment, specifically any symbol of authority be it the police or any embodiment of law enforcement. A group of street-wise musicians broke new ground with their unique brand of music that is all too commonplace today. The group was called N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), formed by three friends: Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr, Ice Cube’s real son), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). and this biopic depicts their rise to fame amid adverse conditions, many caused by their own making.

    While the film paints an incomplete picture of true events and its facts are somewhat skewed, it remains a powerful look into a time when revolution and unrest became part of the mainstream. The film never truly delve into the darker side of these performers and their complicated lives, skimming across some of their more violent acts and anti-social behaviors. The historical accuracy is a bit lax with misogyny and homophobia present in the storytelling but downplayed in this film, especially in the case of Dr. Dre’s record of abuse toward women. (Perhaps the reason may lie with two of the film’s producers, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre themselves who could only go so far as to depict the real story behind the music which diminishes the film’s real impact. The truth obviously could not set them free. It also plays fast and loose with the pivotal roles of MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and their contribution’s to N.W.A.’s mega-hit status. (A sixth member of the group, Arabian Prince, is not even mentioned.)

    That said, the movie is expertly directed by F. Gary Gray. The direction keeps the action moving at a brisk and showy pace. He encompasses his narrative with a vital raw energy and much cinematic style, successfully incorporating the music within its plot. Many of the incidents shown on the screen are fascinating to watch without emotionally connecting to this moviegoer.

    The screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff is literate and riveting while loosely based on the facts. They create believable characters and capture in their dialog the street jargon with much authenticity and bravado. As the group begins to splinter, so does the film in its third act. Still it is strong dramatic fodder as it takes these real life characters and makes their roles bigger-than-life, giving the performers plenty of opportunities to showcase their musical talents and acting abilities. The casting is very strong throughout the film. Particularly outstanding are the three leads who all give break-out performances, especially Jason Mitchell as the trusting member of the group. R. Marcos Taylor plays Suge Knight as pure evil and Paul Giamatti plays their ambitious and shady manager, Jerry Heller, and makes his interpretation of a predictable role even more intriguing.

    Did the film make me appreciate the world of gangsta rap more? No. But I was enraptured by the cast and its talented director. Straight Out of Compton is a well-crafted film and worthwhile viewing, especially for seriously-minded filmgoers and fans of this musical genre. It deserves many of the accolades it is presently earning. Straight up, this film is one of the year’s best.

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