Straight Outta Compton (15)
Running time 2hr 27mins
ICE Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren were all kids from the ghetto when they suddenly shot to fame/notoriety in one of the world’s most influential hip hop outfits. When NWA burst on to the scene back in the late 80s, they brought global attention to the problems in South Central Los Angeles. Hailing from the troubled city of Compton, this significant group of rappers were rhyming about their ’hood – about guns, gang violence, drugs and sex, spitting out lyrics in the language of the streets from which they came. They also shone a light on police brutality. It was an era that saw the horrific beating of taxi driver Rodney King – an event that made headlines around the world – and the subsequent acquittals of the police officers that meted out that beating. These events were held responsible for sparking the 1992 LA riots, and NWA soundtracked it.
Enter director F Gary Gray – more than 20 years later – bringing the NWA story to the screen in dramatised form. Aimed at hip hop fans old and new, the film is a timely reminder of the origins of gangsta rap – hip hop is once again dominating the music scene. Straight Outta Compton keeps its focus fairly tight. It charts the rise and fall of the seminal rap super-group and doesn’t really deviate. Consequently, it gets bogged down by explanations of legal wranglings and with detailing the nuts and bolts of what happened to tear the former friends apart – namely a sneaky, money-grabbing manager, unfair contracts and big egos. It would have been better, perhaps, had it placed more importance on characterisation and delving deeper into the murky world of the burgeoning genre.
That isn’t to take anything away from the performances – O’Shea Jackson Jr is particularly charismatic as Ice Cube (his real-life dad), but both Corey Hawkins as Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E nail decent impersonisations. Coming out so soon after the
superior Beach Boys biopic, Love & Mercy, Straight Outta Compton feels flat in comparison. It gives an overview, and so the film seems insubstantial, failing to get under the skin of its subject matter. With so many discomfiting stories surrounding this band and their origins, it might have made better cinema had these been explored in more depth – Eazy-E’s death is said to be more nefarious than it’s portrayed in the film. Ultimately, the whole thing feels whitewashed.
It does, however, remind us that NWA were not trying to glamourise the lifestyles they were accused of idealising, but simply trying to get their voices heard when no one was listening. With issues still being raised today over police brutality, this film comes at a pertinent time in history, but is probably for hardcore fans of the band only.