Straight Outta Compton
Direction
Cinematography
Acting
Screenplay
Score
4.4Overall Score

Despite an overwhelming amount of story to tell, Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray never fails to find the emotional core of every cataclysmic event that shaped the lives of the founding fathers of gangsta rap.”

The big three, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) are introduced as young men. Eazy E is already a drug dealer, and his opening gambit is suitably gangsta, establishing him as the cocky tough guy of the group. Dr Dre is essentially a momma’s boy, henpecked by his loving mother who just wants to see him make something of himself. Ice Cube is the tortured poet, quietly moving through his teens filling notebooks with raps about the day-to-day strife of living in Compton.

The flashy synth pop of ‘80s America juxtaposes nicely with the grim reality of ghetto life. There’s an overwhelming sense of oppression, with police brutality just a fact of life for most inhabitants of Compton. It’s easy to see how these young artists could emerge from such a crucible with the irascible disdain for the law that made them the ‘world’s most dangerous group’.

Despite all that, the script manages to find the stark vulnerability that made these outwardly thuggish rappers so relatable. Instead of showing the gang violence that moulded these men, Straight Outta Compton instead presents us with the many ways they managed to rise above it. The systemic racism they dealt with day to day is enough to help viewers understand the motivation behind tracks like ‘Fuck tha Police’ without the need for any onscreen violence.

It also doesn’t hurt that every single one of these actors inhabits their roles so well. Not one person lets the side down, with every character just as vital and indomitable on screen as you would expect their real life counterpart to be off-screen. The group works very well together, helping to sell these guys as more than just a collection of talent. They’re more than bandmates; they’re brothers.

The story slows a little around the midway point, with the record company machinations and in-fighting grounding the pace down a bit. Yet that actually does a good job of reflecting the fracturing of the group and the resulting loss of momentum – particularly Ice Cube’s departure and the resulting diss war that threatened to consume both parties. The feud is equal parts funny and poignant, and gets scary as things quickly escalate.

Spearheading that escalation is R. Marcus Taylor in an absolutely terrifying turn as athlete-turned-bodyguard-turned-record label executive Suge Knight, who rampages through the story like a hurricane, providing a sort of id to Jerry Heller’s (Paul Giammati) ego. Where Heller was fine using his close relationship with Eazy E to siphon money from N.W.A., Knight seemed to want to tear the group apart and re-allocate the talent within to meet his own ends.

The last act is pure cautionary tale. While Ice Cube just gets sharper and sharper, everyone else seems to be unravelling;  Dre quickly regrets his decision to found Death Row with the maniacal Knight, and Eazy E watches his empire slip away as the true extent of Heller’s underhandedness becomes clear. Though the movie is drenched in emotion throughout, the last thirty minutes really hit home. Though it could be argued that, given the movie was produced by the surviving members of N.W.A., there’s a certain amount of rose-tinting and rewritten history to the proceedings, no one could argue that Straight Outta Compton was anything less than an expertly-crafted cinematic tale.

Despite an overwhelming amount of story to tell, Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray never fails to find the emotional core of every cataclysmic event that shaped the lives of the founding fathers of gangsta rap.

The big three, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) are introduced as young men. Eazy E is already a drug dealer, and his opening gambit is suitably gangsta, establishing him as the cocky tough guy of the group. Dr Dre is essentially a momma’s boy, henpecked by his loving mother who just wants to see him make something of himself. Ice Cube is the tortured poet, quietly moving through his teens filling notebooks with raps about the day-to-day strife of living in Compton.

The flashy synth pop of ‘80s America juxtaposes nicely with the grim reality of ghetto life. There’s an overwhelming sense of oppression, with police brutality just a fact of life for most inhabitants of Compton. It’s easy to see how these young artists could emerge from such a crucible with the irascible disdain for the law that made them the ‘world’s most dangerous group’.

Despite all that, the script manages to find the stark vulnerability that made these outwardly thuggish rappers so relatable. Instead of showing the gang violence that moulded these men, Straight Outta Compton instead presents us with the many ways they managed to rise above it. The systemic racism they dealt with day to day is enough to help viewers understand the motivation behind tracks like ‘Fuck tha Police’ without the need for any onscreen violence.

It also doesn’t hurt that every single one of these actors inhabits their roles so well. Not one person lets the side down, with every character just as vital and indomitable on screen as you would expect their real life counterpart to be off-screen. The group works very well together, helping to sell these guys as more than just a collection of talent. They’re more than bandmates; they’re brothers.

The story slows a little around the midway point, with the record company machinations and in-fighting grounding the pace down a bit. Yet that actually does a good job of reflecting the fracturing of the group and the resulting loss of momentum – particularly Ice Cube’s departure and the resulting diss war that threatened to consume both parties. The feud is equal parts funny and poignant, and gets scary as things quickly escalate.

Spearheading that escalation is R. Marcus Taylor in an absolutely terrifying turn as athlete-turned-bodyguard-turned-record label executive Suge Knight, who rampages through the story like a hurricane, providing a sort of id to Jerry Heller’s (Paul Giammati) ego. Where Heller was fine using his close relationship with Eazy E to siphon money from N.W.A., Knight seemed to want to tear the group apart and re-allocate the talent within to meet his own ends.

The last act is pure cautionary tale. While Ice Cube just gets sharper and sharper, everyone else seems to be unravelling;  Dre quickly regrets his decision to found Death Row with the maniacal Knight, and Eazy E watches his empire slip away as the true extent of Heller’s underhandedness becomes clear. Though the movie is drenched in emotion throughout, the last thirty minutes really hit home. Though it could be argued that, given the movie was produced by the surviving members of N.W.A., there’s a certain amount of rose-tinting and rewritten history to the proceedings, no one could argue that Straight Outta Compton was anything less than an expertly-crafted cinematic tale.

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