Straight Outta Compton is a provocative, musically motivated mixed blessing of a biopic. It aims not only to evoke outrage, but also break your heart. The finished product is a very Hollywood version of events that led to the rise of N.W.A. and subsequently the mainstreaming of gangsta rap. When the producers of the film are three of the actual protagonists (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy E’s Widow) from that tumultuous time period, I’m not too shocked that nothing in this film is either too harsh or too unflattering.
As told through the vision of director F. Gary Gary, this film focuses on the rise of South Central LA Hip-Hop revolutionaries N.W.A. (Ni***z With Attitudes). It begins in Compton, California, in 1986 and ends less than a decade later, with Eazy-E’s death due to complications from AIDS in 1995. By that point, N.W.A. had altered the musical landscape, creating an environment where rap was considered part of the musical norm.
The first half on the film features the exciting stuff: in any musical biopic, the road to stardom. We are first introduced to a young Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) as he and an up-and-coming deejay, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) sell drug-dealing Eazy-E ( Jason Mitchell) on the idea of funneling in some of his profits into creating a record label. Straight Outta Compton seems to focus heavily on the creation of the 1988 studio bombshell of the same name. Some of the most riveting parts of this film take place in the studio.
My favorite scene in Straight Outta Compton happens to be one of the more uncomfortable moments. The group is taking a break outside a recording studio in Torrance, California, when local police show up and all hell breaks lose. Producer Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who at this point has not shown his true stripes, walks out to all the members of N.W.A. as they lie face first on the concrete. The cops shake down the young men and malign the very existence of rap. What happens in this moment is riveting and the tension feels real. It certainly makes a statement as to the status of race relations during this time period; some would argue even today. Shortly after this altercation, we cut to Ice Cube recording N.W.A’s most famous provocation – “F**k tha Police,” and it becomes beloved by millions.
Jackson Jr. portrays his father’s tough-guy charm in Ice Cube. Mitchell’s Eazy-E emerges as the role that was the most complicated for a number of reasons, and he executed that tough road beautifully. The movie is full of wives, girlfriends, groupies coming and going, but the good times continue to roll. The script, shaped by Johnathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, alternates between party scenes and very “Hollywood” retellings of confrontations/reconciliations.
What we have here in the end is a very polka dots and moon beams version of what went down during the rise of one of the most influential groups of our generation. A tougher-minded biopic would have tackled some of N.W.A’s tougher moments. I find it hard to believe that when Dr. Dre walked in one day to Death Row Records and told Suge Knight that he was leaving the label that Knight was nearly as nice as he was portrayed in the movie. I also saw no mention of anything involving Dr. Dre being arrested after assaulting TV Host Dee Barnes. If you are going to claim that this is the “True” story of what went down during the rise of N.W.A. then why not actually gives us the truth? The truth has the potential to be one of the greatest stories of 2015.
I did enjoy Straight Outta Compton, tremendously. When the music is the focus, the film is second to none. The point that I’m trying to make is that I see this movie as a missed opportunity. We had a chance to see a fuller story that could have easily been one of the top three movies of 2015, but what we ended up with is just a good movie about one of the greatest groups of all time.