Back in January, in my review of Selma, I talked about my love/hate relationship with biopics. These films, no matter how relevant, have to rely on strong performances and good direction to avoid being tedious. A great performance by David Oyelowo and strong direction by Ava DuVerney helped Selma overcome its preachy tone. Straight Outta Compton could’ve felt like just another gangster film with the same old lessons and tropes, but luckily director F.Gary Gray (Friday, Set it Off, The Italian Job) provides a stylish, seamless narrative that makes this film stand out.
The film follows the meteoric rise and subsequent breakup of Compton, California based rap group N.W.A. between 1986 and 1993, focusing on the core members: Charismatic former drug dealer Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), writer and chief lyricist Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), ambitious top producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), fellow producer DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and rapper MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). They are brought together by manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who helps them transcend from local success to national phenomenon, but not without a world of conflict brought on by the group’s brash, controversial music.
If you’re only vaguely familiar with N.W.A., then this movie does a masterful job of explaining why they were so important. Their lyrics, though violent and belligerent, were the voice of an unheard generation and their style helped pioneer the future of rap and hip-hop. But that’s just the history lesson element that this film brings. As a whole, Straight Outta Compton paints a grim, but very real picture that illustrates why the genre exists and why they were true artists. Strong performances also help make the dramatic elements of the film incredibly gripping even if you already know the details. Jason Mitchell’s portrayal of Eazy-E and O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s performance as his father are the most notable, but virtually everyone brings something to the table.
If there’s fault to be had, it’s probably in the films lengthy run time of over 150 minutes. There are certain scenes the movie could do without, but everything flows well. And just like Selma, with so many stories of police brutality flooding the news, this story is as topical and relevant as any film to come out this year. Straight Outta Compton is a vulgar, angry, beautiful ode to an overlooked and misunderstood culture and it deserves to be appreciated and respected as much as the influential group it depicts.
FINAL GRADE: A