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Dan's Review: No escaping reality in "Straight Outta Compton"

Aug 14, 2015 09:33PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr. in Straight Outta Compton - © 2015 - Universal Pictures

Straight Outta Compton (Universal)

Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.

Starring O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr. R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson, Alexandra Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Elena Goode, Keith Powers.

Written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus.

Directed by F. Gary Gray.

GRADE: B

REVIEW:

Movie biographies are often riddled with all sorts of troubles. One of those troubles is the tendency to veer away from actual history, along with the temptation to embellish small things and diminish less pleasant or mundane experiences. Straight Outta Compton is the story of the rap/hip hop group NWA, a controversial and innovative musical sensation that took the world by storm in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The story of NWA (N****z Wit Attitudes) begins during the peak of gang violence and intensified police encounters in the slums of southern California during the late 80s.  Andre ‘Dr. Dre’ Young (Corey Hawkins), O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright (Jason Mitchell), Antoine ‘DJ Yella’ Carraby (Neil Brown, Jr.) and Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson come together to record a few tracks that they sell and market on their own (one of the original NWA members Kim ‘Arabian Prince’ Nazel is not depicted in the movie). Everything changes when music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) hears some of their music and offers to help them form their own label Ruthless Records. Heller later strikes a deal with another record company as the group records their seminal album Straight Outta Compton. The album goes platinum as NWA goes on tour, much to the distaste of religious and law enforcement groups. The group encounters resistance from the government and others who want to silence their obscene and vitriolic lyrics. Despite their success, NWA eventually begins to fall apart among feuds over money and creative differences. As Ice Cube and Dr. Dre strike out on their own, Eazy-E and the others begin to founder. Eazy-E hits rock-bottom when he contracts the HIV virus and develops AIDS. Eazy-E’s death prompts the remaining NWA members to bury the hatchet and reconcile.

Straight Outta Compton is a fair biographical movie that captures the essence of the group that innovated the west coast hip hop/’gamsta rap movement, while laying the groundwork for contemporary artists of the genre. The actors who portray the band all bear striking resemblance to the original artists (especially O’Shea Jackson, Jr. - for obvious reasons) while their performances are more than adequate. Special credit goes to Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, who captures the essence of the artist’s sense of humor and dark troubles.

Straight Outta Compton isn’t a perfect film, and seems more like a VH-1 ‘Behind the Music’ documentary on steroids, complete with all the chronicling of the rags-to-riches and falls from grace. Such tales are somewhat predictable, which makes the film experience a little less interesting.

Some of the NWA experience also comes across as less than honest in Straight Outta Compton, passing over some of the group’s controversial lyrics about women, homosexuals and Jews. Some of the reported violent encounters against women by members of NWA are also conspicuously absent.

Despite these small flaws, Straight Outta Compton is an enjoyable feature film that chronicles a part of American music culture that may be unfamiliar to many.


Straight Outta Compton Trailer

Arts+Entertainment movie reviews rap music
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