There have been a ton of music biopic films over the years, but any of those focusing on the hip hop culture have always been regulated to straight to DVD or made for TV releases. If anyone was going to finally get a big screen adaptation of their career and impact it was going to be N.W.A. The film about them has been in the works for years but it seemed like it was never going to happen. Thankfully the iconic rap group isfinally getting their story told with the film aptly titled Straight Outta Compton, but can it capture the story of one of the most important hip hop groups of all time or will it insult their memory being a one hit wonder?
Straight Outta Compton follows five young men in 1987, using brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats, who put their frustration and anger about life in the most dangerous place in America into the most powerful weapon they had: their music. These cultural rebels—armed only with their lyrics, swagger, bravado and raw talent—stood up to the authorities that meant to keep them down and formed the world’s most dangerous group, N.W.A. and as they spoke the truth that no one had before and exposed life in the hood, their voice ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today. You would expect a film like this to be one that likely only a select group of people would be interested in, but the magnitude of the groups history in the industry and the perfection of the film sets it up as something that works for everyone as a peek into history of the genre and society. Director F. Gary Gray has taken a group with big personalities and was able to tell their story without every losing anyone completely in the mix. They have put together a great cast with O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., and R. Marcos Taylor.
While most are relative unknowns it helps to bring you into their world and instantly believe you are taking a trip back in time and witnessing history. All of them do a great job with Ice Cube’s real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr. portraying him to perfection with the look, the sound and the trademark scowl. He perfectly embodies his father on every level making you believe he is standing right in front of you. Corey Hawkins brings the innocence and skill of Dre to life while showcasing his true passion for the music and love for his group, but the real standout performance comes from Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. He embodies the man to perfection and brings a hard edge to the role while infusing it with a sense of humanity despite being involved in some shady behind the scenes business with Giamatti’s Jerry Heller. Anyone that knows the history know that these two guys are the reasons behind both the groups rise and fall and they do not sugar coat it, but still manage to never make either of them really a villain either. If there was any issue with the characters in the film it comes in the lack of Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Neil Brown Jr. as Dj Yella. While neither of their personalities and careers have been as seemingly huge as the other three, they were major impacts on the group and the rap culture and seemed to be kind of pushed to the side. Thankfully they do get some moments to shine, just not as much as they actually deserved. R. Marcus Traylor gives a menacing performance as Suge Knight perfectly capturing the menace and insanity that we have all heard about for years. To round out the perfection of the film there are actors portraying a who’s who of the rap game during that time with each of them doing a great job.
Obviously the music plays an important part to their legacy and this film makes sure to not just give us brief moments like a lot of these kinds of films do, but instead often full performances. Everyone had the mannerisms and swagger down during the performances making you feel like you are right there and revisiting those you might have seen on TV. They are all high energy and will no doubt have you rapping or bobbing your head along with the beat. They spent a great amount of time showcasing the development of their sound, the writing and the moments that inspired some of the songs. Most notably is a powerful sequence involving an unwarranted run in with the police that fueled the anger and voice for Cube to write their most controversial song F@%K The Police. The sequence of the run in, the moment he reveals the lyrics and transition into the recording perfectly captures everything they were feeling and wanting to express in just a small sequence of the film. This is a taste of the brilliance that comes from this emotional and meteoric rise of these icon in the music industry and the perfection of the film as a whole.
This film could have easily sugar coated their story and just focused on recording the album, but like N.W.A. itself that just isn’t enough. They have taken the film to bigger heights than you might expect following not only the formation and rise of the world’s most dangerous group, but also their break up, solo careers and emotional journey back to redemption with each other and the loss of one of their own. Whether you are a fan of the music or not, there is no doubt that one of these individuals have produced something that you have enjoyed. This is not just a film for fans of N.W.A. but a history of music and a group who spoke out against oppression that still holds true today and is a must see film.