Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Contains spoilers.

A movie about police brutality couldn't have come at a better time. At a time when so many headlines involve murder at the hands of a few cops who have let their power get the better of them, being able to see the struggle of an inspired group who rise to fame despite massive discrimination, racism, misunderstanding, and feuding is both powerful and moving.

F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton tells a selection of the true story of rap group N.W.A.'s rise to fame. The story, a screenplay from the relative newcomers Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, tells a succinct version of the 9-year saga of neighborhood friends Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella from being industry unknowns to being infamous after meeting manager Jerry Heller. As the group gained fame they faced discrimination and racism, largely from police, based mainly on the color of their skin and their misunderstood music. And despite Heller's help and connections, the group starts to splinter because of unfair contracts. After Ice Cube leaves the group, Eazy E starts a feud with his new tracks which diss Cube, who then retaliates. As their feud continues and their fame grows, the splinters between them get deeper as they each pursue bigger goals.

With Ice Cube's own son, O'shea Jackson, Jr., leading a stellar cast of relative newcomers as the star rappers, the cast brings the story to life in splendid and visceral fashion. With Paul Giamatti portraying Jerry Heller with, he brings massive experience to the story as a grizzled and been-around music manager who's in the game, primarily, for his own benefit. For the past decade or so, rumors have abounded regarding all kinds of rappers and drama and feuds between them; in Straight Outta Compton we get to see exactly what led to N.W.A.'s demise and the emotions embroiled between everything.

Of course, the group has about a decade of history between them. As friends, growing up together in Compton, they have a lot of history between them. But as the friends start to realize their fame and a taste of the good life, they start to stress the money, which creates massive fractures between what's otherwise been a great friendship. The great acting lends itself to the believable fallout between the friends as they start to turn on each other.

Straight Outta Compton is a surprisingly beautiful film. It creates a sense of insurmountability in these men that seem to care mostly about respect. And that, in turn, creates this weird mixture of emotion, because they seem almost emotionless unless those walls get shattered and we see how tumultuous events actually affect them. They do feel pain. They do get hurt. And when their friend turns their back on them, they feel that the same way that we do.

Just as the group enters their famous days, Gray's interpretation turns political. He shows us the racism and discrimination that the group, and black people and minorities in general, would face while literally standing around and not doing anything. Not only is Cube harassed by police while simply walking home, told that the LAPD is "the only gang around here," but the entirety of N.W.A. is racially profiled by a group of police. At one point, the group is almost arrested as a pair of cops request backup while N.W.A. is standing on the sidewalk outside of their studio, taking a break from recording music and eating some burgers. The burgers and sodas are knocked out of their hands, they're told to lay on the ground like criminals, and, in the course of explaining what they're doing, a cop tells them that "Rap isn't art."

That encounter with the police, and other experiences from growing up in Compton, pushes the group to produce a song famously called "Fuck the Police." Their situation becomes increasingly precarious as they try to convey the difficulties that they, and others, face as minorities. Their music is continually misunderstood as something hateful, with law enforcement effectively vilifying the group. At one point, on tour in Dallas, police officials try to censor the group, threatening arrest if they perform "Fuck the Police."

Straight Outta Compton effectively becomes a great mix of messages (which are especially relevant with today's social climate) behind the character driven drama as N.W.A. lets things fall apart between them. Gray highlights a few events, like the beating of Rodney King and the following riots, as contentious events in the rappers' lives, creating turmoil in addition to their feuding. And Matthew Libatique's skilled photography turns the downbeat story from Compton into something beautiful. The lens flairs, slow and subtle camera movements, fantastic editing and musical integration, and stunning palette turns the film into art, with muted vibrance that lends character to everything.

And obviously, the death of Eazy E is a tragedy to the music community. It's photographed amazingly, with stark shots and great acting. It's a touching moment that conveys an unbelievable amount of depth that you won't be prepared for. Straight Outta Compton proves to be an accurate, emotive biographical drama with stellar casting. Cameos from the characters of Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Suge Knight's ruthless endeavors create a full and complete environment, and the totality of Gray's film feels large and important, even after the credits roll.

 

TL;DR: Of course the 9-year journey (until their eventual revival) of N.W.A. is going to be watered down, but that doesn't mean the message is. Straight Outta Compton is a gripping and authentic portrayal of the rap group's rise to fame and feuds. The characters are well-rounded and the story is surprisingly emotional. Director F. Gary Gray hits every beat and then keeps hitting. If you've ever liked hip-hop, if you've ever been through LA, or even if you don't understand gangsta rap... well it doesn't matter. This is a good movie.

  • Acting – 19 / 20
  • Story – 16 / 20
  • Cinematography – 18 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 9 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 10 / 10
  • Drama/Biographical – 9 / 10
  • Other – 10 / 10
 

Grade A = 91 / 100