Release date: August 14, 2015
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and Paul Giamatti
“Straight Outta Compton” is a fairly one sided view of the rise and fall of the hardcore gangsta rap group N.W.A. and its five members — Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (Cube’s real life son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) — from the ruthless and dangerous streets of Compton, to the band’s break-up, which led (most of them) to successful solo careers.
As the 80’s were drawing to a close, the hardcore gangsta rap group N.W.A. was on the verge of changing R&B music forever. As they rose to prominence, they were considered a menace to society because some believed their music promoted violence, encouraging African Americans to rise up against white authority — but the reality is they and their music were a reflection of their surroundings not the other way around.
The band’s manager, Jerry Heller, portrayed here by Paul Giamatti is the primary source of the controversy that is sure to follow the flick. Heller begins as a mentor to Eazy-E, promising to make NWA legit, but ends up being the source of the group’s break-up in the early 90’s when Dre and Cube found out how much money Heller was taking off the top.
The movie ultimately paints him as a villain and a thief, another fast-talking producer taking advantage of talented musicians who had no choice but to trust him in order to avoid a life of poverty and gang violence. Bad guy or not, Giamatti is terrific in the role. His relationship with E is the pulse of the story and their scenes together are a lot of fun.
The cast is made up of mostly unknowns, which helps make their portrayals that much more believable. Mitchell and Hawkins are both excellent as Eazy-E and Dr. Dre, respectively, bringing edge and heart to the characters. Tasked with playing his father, Jackson Jr. has Cube’s persona down — and when the dude smiles, he looks just like his father. Unfortunately, the film’s focus is the big three, leaving Ren and Yella as bit players.
At two and a half hours long, the film is entirely too long. even for a biopic. While it does manage to maintain a high entertainment level, it seems to lose it’s focus during the third act. There are hints at Cube moving into acting and screenwriting, Dre’s career as a producer including discovering TuPac and Snoop Dogg, and his relationship with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, but while interesting, it feels like fluff compared to the meat and potatoes of the power struggle going on between Cube, Dre, E and Heller.
“Straight Outta Compton” is interesting, emotional and sometimes even funny look at at what went on behind the scenes of the rise and fall of N.W.A. It may not be the whole story, but it’s still a hell of a story. Thanks to inspiring performances, it could be a movie to be on the lookout for during awards season.
MPAA rating: R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use
Running time: 2 hours 27 minutes