WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
DIRECTED BY: F. Gary Gray
STARRING: O'Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
RATING: 4.5 stars
Set in the rough streets of Compton, Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the film depicts how NWA was formed and revolutionised hip-hop music with their tales about life in the hood. At the start of the film, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) is a drug dealer, Andre “Dr Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) is struggling with becoming a young father and O'Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O'Shea Jackson Jr) is like a sponge absorbing all the injustices around him. The trio and their friends, MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) – who are unfortunately reduced to being sidekicks in the film – form NWA and begin working with manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), whose intentions are not as pure as they seem.
Straight Outta Compton is a powerful film depicting an important story about the music industry, pop culture and politics in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is not a stretch to say Straight Outta Compton is as important as any civil rights film, such as the recent Selma, because it expertly shows the racial tensions, police brutality and corruption against the controversial rappers that is still applicable to black people today in some parts of the US. The film runs for more than two hours, but by the end of it, I still wanted more. Even if you already know the story of NWA, there are some great insights in this film and the end credits only give a tease about the direction their lives took in the past 20 years. It is also great to see significant moments in NWA's history on screen including the infamous run-in with police that led to the iconic song, F*** Tha Police.
Like any biopic, the film is skewed a certain way. It is very much Ice Cube and Dr Dre's version of events, so do not expect to see scenes that show either of them in severely bad light, including Dr Dre's abuse of women. Eazy-E's wife is also a producer, so again, it has a strong influence from her point of view. Furthermore, Jerry Heller has publicly objected to his portrayal in the film. Nonetheless, the overall story is fascinating.
The cast is also phenomenal, led by Ice Cube's son Jackson Jr, who plays his father so well it almost feels like stepping back in time to watch the real Ice Cube. Hawkins has some tough scenes and pulls them off well, while Mitchell perhaps has the most difficult task of portraying Eazy-E's complexities. R. Marcus Taylor is also worth noting as the threatening Suge Knight, who was the catalyst for some major changes in Dr Dre's life. Giamatti is also convincing and has now recently played two creeps of the music industry after his work in the Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy.
There are few biopics that explore the themes and lives of successful rappers. Straight Outta Compton not only does that, but does so in such an interesting way that you do not even have to be a fan of the group to love the film.