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 The year’s best biopic shines as a timely and relevant piece.

 

 

It’s not every day a film comes around that completely changes your perspective about its subjects, the lifestyle and its deep-seeded culture. Rich in history, Straight Outta Compton tells both the glamorous and ugly sides of fame, living in the ghetto, the music industry and historic events that shook America at its core to form the genesis of Gangsta Rap or more accurately “Reality Rap” and the start of a nationwide revolution.

 

 

Straight Outta Compton opens with a high intense bang, much like life in Compton, L.A., during the height of the drug epidemic and street gangs in the 1980’s; as a teenager experiences a drug payment gone terribly wrong. This is Eazy-E and just like Jason Mitchell, the actor portraying him, he is a force to be reckoned who will see his future catapulted to new heights. N.W.A or Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes was born from the streets of Compton, California, led by Eazy-E, rapping genius Ice Cube and producer/performer Dr. Dre; along with DJ Yella and MC Ren rounding out the “gang.”

 

 

While at the surface this is a bio-pic about the rise, trials and tribulations of N.W.A., if you look deeper it’s so much more, just like the group’s powerful lyrics. Shrouded in poverty, gang violence, exhausting harassment from the police; the N.W.A. was a breath of fresh air to the industry. Unafraid to rap about their reality, unlike their rapping forefathers, they became a social-political voice during the Bush Era and L.A. Riots, making friends and enemies along the way. Either way, people started taking notice, including young upper class Caucasians, the FBI and the White House, thus deeming them “The World’s Most Dangerous Rap Group.”

 

 

Led by Jerry Hellar, a questionable veteran manager, the first half of the film focuses on the group harnessing their talents (there’s a hilarious scene where Dr. Dre teaches Eazy-E how to rap Cruisin’ In My 64’), their sudden rise to fame under Eazy-E’s record label, Ruthless Records, and the group’s undoing by jealousy, money-issues, fighting and departures of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, which culminates in epic diss songs from both Ice Cube and Eazy-E. What starts out as an ensemble piece, transforms into a character study of Eazy-E, what happens after N.W.A.’s split, carefully handling Eazy-E’s death due to complications from age AIDS at the age of 31, Dr. Dre continuing his music career as he worked with Snoop Dogg, Tupac and the infamous Suge Knight for Deathrow Records to Ice Cube’s solo career and film stardom. It also manages to touch on the beginnings of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry that produced classic songs and untimely deaths.

 

 

Straight Outta Compton is long, but it never bores. There is such rich history on display, and delectable acting, that it grips you from the very beginning. The cast is strong; going beyond looks, they capture their characters mannerisms, swagger and passion. There are these small understated moments between each character that ooze chemistry, but there are also minor characters that shine. R. Marcus Taylor is a massive presence, not only in size but as a looming darkness as Suge Knight. Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur is literally breathtaking despite having one of the smallest scenes as he raps “California Love.” Rogelio Douglas Jr., as Chuck D, Sheldon A. Smith as Warren G, Mark Sherman as Jimmy Iovine and Marlon Yates Jr., as The D.O.C., also make a appearances.

 

 

Every single actor holds their own. Corey Hawkins, a dead ringer for Dr. Dre, is every bit a leader; O’Shea Jackson proves that talent runs in the family as his father is Ice Cube (he needs to continue to follow in his father’s acting footsteps), while Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella are reduced to sidekicks and comic reliefs roles. Then there’s Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, who breathes life into the film, he is in every shape and form a master class in acting. Despite undergoing three hours of makeup, the role never becomes a caricature; he is three-dimensional, sympathetic and raw. Paul Giamatti as Heller rounds out the cast as a charming and sneaky business manager who takes the group under his wing, almost protecting them (the best he can) from the police who, in one scene, humiliate the group for standing outside a recording studio.

 

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In no shape or form is this film perfect. Produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, it takes great liberties to make their characters the most honest and sympathetic, leaving out Dre’s history of abusing women (violently beating reporter Dee Barne after an interview), illegal business deals, allegations of homophobia/anti-Semitism/misogyny and other shady doings. However, Suge Knight is portrayed the most straightforward as a modern day mob boss, hotheaded with brutal force who beats his way into getting whatever he wants, even at Eazy-E’s expense.

 

 

Even with its flaws, director Gary F. Gray is in his element. Straight Outta Compton is one of the best bio-pics ever; even when the movie becomes broader, Gary never loses focus. Despite the group separating over twenty years ago, their message resonates today. N.W.A.’s well documented long-standing feud with law enforcement is beautifully depicted, timely and relevant due to the Black Lives Matter movement, the events of Ferguson, and numerous police brutality cases in the news. They paved the way for artists today to make statements about law enforcement without heavy repercussions. Unlike today’s generation, in spite of laws protecting Freedom of Speech, during their infamous 1989 concert, the N.W.A. was arrested for performing “Fuck the Police” in Detroit simply because the police didn’t like it. They served an important role as a representative of the middle-class Caucasian community uncomfortable with gangsta rap, despite the fact the group had many young Caucasian fans singing right along with them.

 

 

Masterfully filmed by Gray, this scene pays homage to their music video of the same name. N.W.A. went toe-to-toe with the FBI, who considered their lyrics a threat to their safety, they openly made comments condemning the Rodney King verdict. They actively stood for what they believed in, something that’s barely seen by artists today who would rather have Twitter feuds and stand behind their publicists.

 

 

Straight Outta Compton is a must-see by all. It is a thrilling, at times hilarious, full-throttle ride that finely balances drama with comedy. Never feeling too heavy-handed, it is a historical trip down memory lane supported by one of the best soundtracks, helping to elevate each scene and emotion. Handled with such care, the music focuses on the group’s R&B influences, top 40 Hip-Hop sounds that dominated the airways (there’s even a nod to Wu-Yang Clan) and a musical montage of artists N.W.A. influenced today, educating those that without N.W.A. there wouldn’t be an Eminem, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Fifty Cent or many other sounds (Beats by Dre) and artists teenagers sing-along with today.

 

 

Straight Outta Compton is a reminder that what started in the streets landed in boardrooms, shaping America to what it is today, whether you like it or not.

 

 

Directed By: F. Gary Gray

Screenplay By: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff

Starring: O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Release Date: August 14, 2015

Run Time: 147 Minutes

About The Author

Dana Abercrombie
Brand Manager

Former genius and a woman of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by her mystery, Dana Abercrombie has been watching since birth (yes birth...we did say "genius"). Despite her secret desire of wanting to give it all up to become a gorgeous billionaire, Dana is most passionate about films often times getting in many heated debates resulting in being thrown out of many gatherings. Despite having a degree in English AND Journalism (multi-tasking FTW!) from the University at Albany-SUNY, she is currently interested in perusing a degree at Yale Law School, because one should never give up on a dream of becoming a gorgeous billionaire...and knowing how to sue someone as a result of those heated debates.