I’m a 6’2″, 220-pound, passive-aggressive, overly whiny, slightly busted looking white boy and I love N.W.A. If not simply because their music is fantastic, anyone that brave to be controversial and stand up for what they see and how the system puts them down in their society every day, is worthy of insane respect out of the gate.
Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get straight to business. From the start, I was pumped for “Straight Outta Compton” for a few reasons, partially due to my love and respect for the group and its members and also my anticipation for seeing director F. Gary Gray back in action after a brief hiatus from film. The film also represents a shift in demographic along with other recent movies like “Dope” and “Top Five,” demonstrating that quality, contemporary black cinema can be made without submitting to stereotypes, telling very real stories of how black life is currently, not just from Oscar bait films that detail only the past. “Straight Outta Compton” is a film that deals with an often overlooked time in history, that of the early ’90s, a time that feels long ago, but in the events that occur in “Straight Outta Compton,” are more rooted in today than ever before.
Because yes, “Straight Outta Compton” is that important of a movie.
Forget the music, the personas, the feuds, the drama and everything that comes to mind when you think about N.W.A. At its core, “Straight Outta Compton” and N.W.A. in general follows five boys who have been told all their life that they will amount to nothing, and when these boys go out and challenge those ideas and speak out against the system that’s holding them back, they automatically become “The Most Dangerous Group in the World.” That’s America in 1986, where this film starts. That’s America in 2015, where the story still continues.
O’Shea Jackson Jr., the son of Ice Cube, founding member of N.W.A., plays Ice Cube himself in the film. It’s pretty known so far, but when I say that Jackson is perfectly cast in this film, it’s already an understatement. Jackson is practically identical to his father and has every bit of his charismatic attitude and iconic attitude. Jackson has stated he was uncomfortable playing his father in this film at first, but by the end he felt as if he was the only person who could’ve possibly done it, and at the end of the day, he was completely right.
Corey Hawkins, while less of a dead ringer for his counterpart, Dr. Dre, still kills it as much as Jackson does, really getting the subtleties of Dre’s personality that you can pick up on when he is interviewed. Playing it mostly cool, the scenes in which Hawkins snaps into anger are pure ferocity, showing how much Dre was not a confrontational person, only that his society made him have to be that way to survive.
Lastly, of the main members of N.W.A., Jason Mitchell plays the most volatile member of the group, Eazy-E, and does so, much like the others, damn near perfectly. Eazy-E is a tough role to fill as he’s the only member of N.W.A. that has passed away, giving Mitchell only a past reference and word of mouth of Eazy-E’s true and subtle personality. I have to give props to Mitchell above all as he performed just as well without the help of his actual movie counterpart. Pulling off an accurate portrayal of someone who is deceased is hard; pulling off Eazy-E is even harder.
Director F. Gary Gray, as well as director of photography Matthew Libatique, combine elements in this film, going back and forth between a glossy, big budget studio flick, primarily used in the larger concert and party scenes to portray the flash and glamour of success, and the grittier, more indie feel to the piece, used in the quieter and more intimate scenes between characters and their environments. The balance between these two styles of film-making work perfectly with the style of N.W.A.: impressive, but gritty.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s apparent that this is not a time of police-civilian peace, and whatever your view on that is, you can’t deny how closely the events that are occurring today mirror that of the historical events that happen in “Straight Outta Compton,” primarily the Rodney King beating, trial and riots. This makes “Straight Outta Compton” so much more important as a reflection on how our society is structured and how without a change of power, without recognition of a problem and without an voice of an opposition to the system, much like N.W.A. had, change cannot come about. Without that, the problem isn’t even seen.
I’m able to forgive N.W.A. for some of their more insensitive lyrics involving misogyny and homophobia, as it simply was a different time and a product of the society in which they were raised, all of which these artists have atoned for. I’m able to focus on N.W.A.’s power as artists, and how sometimes to make a splash, to make yourself known, to truly show that you are worth something, you must make controversy, you must “go there,” and forgo subtlety completely. If N.W.A. had released a song called “I’m Displeased with the State of Law Enforcement in my City,” I promise you, this movie would not have been made, because it was “F**k tha Police” that made people listen, made people gasp and made people take note of N.W.A.’s existence and power.
There’s so much about N.W.A. that’s utterly fascinating and “Straight Outta Compton” nails it. For a film that runs almost two-and-a-half hours, not once did the film feel long or dragging. The history of N.W.A., including the controversy and demonization of their character for the comfort of mainstream audiences, is one for history books. “Straight Outta Compton” is the best biopic since “Selma” last December. The film captures the harsh and volatile reality of life for these boys as well as the fact that their success, no matter how great, or dramatic, could ever change where they come from, warts and all. You know where they come from, and no one will ever forget.
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and Paul Giamatti.
Runtime: 147 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence and drug use.
Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures present, in association with New Line Cinema/CubeVision/Crucial Films, a Broken Chair Flickz production, an F. Gary Gray film, “Straight Outta Compton”