Ever since this film's release in the US last month, I've been hearing plenty of reviews from people calling it the best film of the year. As someone who isn't really into rap music, I wasn't entirely sold on this promise. Sure, I respected their opinions, but I'm not necessarily all that into rap. I went into this movie excited, but prepared to not like it as much as others do. Oh, how I owe them all a huge apology. I knew it looked good, but god damn, that was great. Like, really, really great. Take that, Jersey Boys. This is how you make a music biopic.
Straight Outta Compton is the true story of N.W.A, the rap band consisting of Ice Cube (played by Ice Cube's real life son, O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). The film, which takes its name from one of their more popular albums, takes us on a journey through two decades of their careers. The film manages to intertwine so many aspects of their lives, not only including the rise of their fame and controversy of their music, in particular their song "fuck the police." We get to witness the tension that builds within the band, the unnecessary police brutality and racism against them, we see their family life and we see them gradually grow against their manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). It sounds like your usual biopic topics, and in some cases it is, but Straight Outta Compton must do something right as it sure as hell didn't feel familiar.
Like I previously said, I'm not a big rap person. I can respect it and I can respect certain bands or musicians, N.W.A in particular, but I just can't get into it for some strange reason. It's just not my thing. When it comes to Straight Outta Compton, however, they put so much else on the table that you don't need to be a fan of rap or even music to enjoy it. If you're a fan of quality entertainment, this film is for you. Even though at its core, the film is about the relationship between these five musicians, what really makes this film special, to me anyway, is the way it portrays the racism and police brutality.
In my opinion, it was the most captivating aspect of this movie, and it's what really drew me into the film. There's so much to love about this movie and so many moments that will no-doubt bring a smile to your face, and maybe even a tear to your eye, but the strongest aspect of this film is easily the way it deals with authority. N.W.A raised a lot of controversy, and the police reactions to this are simply not on. They beat people, arrested people and shut down shows all because these five guys spoke the truth, and this aspect of the movie really hit me hard. It can get repetitive from time to time, the band constantly getting arrested and then they're scott-free in the next scene, but it's engrossing nonetheless.
The screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff is phenomenal, going through the careers of these musicians with ease and elegancy, but it does skim through some rather important details. I wasn't too familiar with the true story prior to seeing this movie, so from time to time I felt like I was a little behind with things, in particular the final scene. There are details that are aimed primarily at the fans, so movie viewers like myself won't quite get a grip on things. This is a very rare occurrence, don't get me wrong, but it did happen more than once, so I felt it was necessary to bring it up.
But the man who deserves some serious credit here is director F. Gary Gray. Nobody else could've made this movie as well as he did. Everything from the shots to the performances he got out of his actors were all mind blowing. He can mix humour with the seriousness and the two go hand in hand. As the second half kicks in, Gray spends less time focussing on the music and more time on the musicians themselves, and this really plays into the film's favour. He lets us in on all of their lives and gives us a more extensive look at the destruction their band has caused.
No matter who you are, it's always a hard job to balance out so many protagonists in one movie, but it's certainly been done before and it's definitely been done here. Dj Yella and MC Ren are given the least amount of screen time, but their presence is still felt. It's Ice Cube. Eazy-E and Dr Dre that serve as the main main characters, and there's never an unnecessary moment between them. Each of their individual scenes are great, but it's the ones together that really stand out, a tracking shot in a hotel room being the first to come to mind, and it's not nearly the only memorable moment.
To sum up, Straight Outta Compton is a brutally honest biopic that may have a difficult time balancing itself out, but is entertaining right from the get-go, all the way up to the closing credits. You don't need to be a fan of this type of music. Just go see the movie.