Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Film Review #90

Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Director: F. Gary Gray Starring: Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 147 Minutes

Tagline: "The world's most dangerous times created the world's most dangerous group."

If like me you were around in the late 80's, surely you can't have failed to notice the rapid rise of gangsta rap? Even if you had no interest in this abrasive new musical style - and indeed, some even refused to class it as music at all - it soon reached such prevalence that you would hear it whether you wanted to or not. At the forefront of this rise were N.W.A - self proclaimed Niggaz With Attitudes - who pioneered so-called 'reality rap', and it went down a storm. Actually, a storm is a very apt metaphor as not only did N.W.A achieve almost overnight superstardom but their controversial lyrics and behaviour also attracted a great deal of negativity culminating in protests as well as attention from the law enforcement community. As with any meteoric rise, however, there was also the inevitable fall, and this biopic shows us both.

We are first introduced to each of the five main members separately. Eric 'Eazy E' Wright (Mitchell) is a drug-dealing gangbanger, Andre 'Dr Dre' Young (Hawkins) and Antoine 'Yella' Carraby (Brown Jr) are both struggling DJ's, O'Shea 'Ice Cube' Jackson (played by his real life son) spends his non-school hours writing 'hard rhymes', and lastly the dope-slangin Lorenzo 'MC Ren' Patterson (Hodge). Some of them were already friends, some were friends of friends, and it wasn't long before they'd come together to form N.W.A. The brainchild of Dr Dre, funded by Eazy E's money, and fuelled by (predominantly) Ice Cube's edgy lyrics, they put a spotlight on the many social injustices suffered by inner city youths at the time, particularly ethnic minorities, like police harassment and brutality, and they were a smash hit.

It's kind of hard to imagine what it must have been like actually. Their rise is accelerated somewhat here as you might expect, but it still all happened amazingly fast. Starting with Eazy E's initially-reluctant performance on 'Boyz-n-the-Hood' and the resultant formation of his record label, Ruthless Records, the appointment of the now-infamous Jerry Heller (Giamatti) as manager, through to the group's first shows in local Compton clubs, it wasn't long before they were filling stadiums nationwide. Of course, it's also not long before problems start to arise too. First there are contract and royalties disputes, then comes trouble with not just the muthafukkin police but the federal government as well. A jealous guy even comes to their hotel room looking for his girlfriend in one of the films's funnier scenes (chortle!).

It's a rollercoaster ride to be sure, even for us watching, nevermind what it must've been like for these teenagers straight off the fuckin' streets of C-P-T, and it doesn't end there either. Tense situations become tenser and the pioneering group gradually dissolves. Some of them move on to solo projects while others stubbornly soldier on, and previous in-group feuds soon become much more public as they start dissing each other on their respective records. It sure was an eventful time to be a hip-hop fan, but of course, it wasn't just about the music either. The turmoil of N.W.A 's life and the ensuing events was something of a microcosm of that period in the US generally. They were turbulent times, rife with cultural, racial, and political tensions, fuelled by incidents such as the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA riots. You could say N.W.A were in the right place at the right time.

It is a film though, and so liberties are taken here and there. Those who already know N.W.A's story might be wondering why Arabian Prince barely features here - he was a founding member of the group before MC Ren joined after all. Also absent is Michel'le (fellow Ruthless artist) and Dre's allegedly abusive relationship with her (and several other women), although it's not especially surprising that this has been glossed over. Insensitive inaccuracies aside though, no one can take anything away from the vision and innovation these guys had and how superbly it's all been portrayed here. F Gary Gray's direction is faultless (how he failed to receive an Oscar nomination I'll never know). Every scene looks great, from the opening battering-ram drug raid right up to the final scenes (which I won't spoil here), and each of them perfectly captures the styles and atmosphere of the time.

The casting choices were superb too. There really isn't a single bad performance here, but stand-outs for me were Mitchell's wonderful portrayal of Eazy E (who should've had an Oscar nom himself) and Jackson, Jr who looks and acts so much like his father it's uncanny. And to think this was his acting debut! Giamatti is as superb as always too, as the main 'villain' of the film, and relative-newcomer Taylor was spot-on with his Suge Knight. It seems a bit unfair to single anyone out though, as all are fantastic, cast and crew alike. It may not be 100% accurate but Straight Outta Compton is a masterful biopic and a fascinating look at some of the most iconic and infamous musicians, and indeed times, of recent US history.

You might think that N.W.A weren't important or that rap music in general is a blight on an otherwise pristine art form - and I know lots who feel this way, believe me - but you're dead wrong if you ask me. It's hard not to respect it and the guys who dragged it into public consciousness. It was born of the tough, prejudicial times they and many like them endured - as Ice Cube himself has said, their art is a reflection of their reality, and that was the truth. Sadly, judging by recent events, particularly in the US once again, it looks like the lessons weren't learnt well enough either, so some of the film's messages ring true just as much today. Whether you like rap or not, I'd urge any film fan to watch this. It's a fantastic example filled with wonderful performances, and is almost certainly my favourite film of last year.

RKS Score: 9/10



  1. Heller said SOC got it wrong, and was suing producers until he died a few days ago. Regarding the really ruthless manager, (who Dr Dre left end if film) is he still alive? Let me know if u know of any documentaries etc! Peace :)

  2. He's Suge Knight, he was arrested for a hit and run on the set of this very film I believe. He is currently on trial for murder. The actor in the film looks just like him too.