“Straight Outta Compton” is a biopic that chronicles the highs and lows in the careers of rappers Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube, who together formed the legendary ghetto rap group N.W.A. back in the late 80s. And while I can’t write what N.W.A. stands for, I can state that this is a solid and occasionally daring film – with attitude.
While these rappers had millions of fans, most people heading into this movie won’t be aware of the depths of this true story, and it’s the details that give “Straight Outta Compton” its power. These three artists and a few longtime friends from their tough, south LA neighborhood, decide the way to escape lives of poverty, violence and drugs is through their music – and the film follows their rise from local stars to international superstars, who change the industry forever, unapologetically exercising their First Amendment rights with controversial lyrics. And we see that the real struggles come in trying to stay successful, under the shady leadership of manager Jerry Heller (played by the always excellent Paul Giamatti).
There are some funny scenes in the recording studio, and surprise references and cameos from actors playing other popular rap artists of the time. But the strongest scenes in “Straight Outta Compton” are the confrontations between these young black men and the LA police (both white and black officers), who harass, insult and physically beat them just because of who they are and the messages they’re delivering in their songs. This script doesn’t hold back – providing a realistic sense of the racial tensions of the time, even incorporating the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots into the storyline. And it doesn’t portray these rappers as heroes, as everyone involved in this story is flawed – some more than others.
Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., plays his dad. Corey Hawkins (“Non-Stop”) is Dr. Dre, and Jason Mitchell (“Contraband”) plays Eazy-E. All three are quite convincing. F. Gary Gray (who directed Ice Cube’s breakout film “Friday” 20 years ago) gives each artist’s story the proper attention, resulting in a nice narrative balance.
But “Straight Outta Compton” suffers from one major problem: it’s two and a half hours long and feels it. By the time we arrive at the third act (which is dominated by the business end of things – no longer the passion for making great music) the material becomes very repetitive. Some editing would’ve helped make for a tighter and more coherent film. The closing credits perk your interest back up, with true-life footage and interviews – which will inspire you to check-out the 2008 VH1 Documentary – “N.W.A. – The World’s Most Dangerous Group”. But considering the influence these young men continue to have on the popular music scene of today, a more comprehensive, updated feature would be welcome.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Straight Outta Compton” gets a B-.
Running Time: 147 min.