REVIEW: Straight Outta Compton

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by Dustin Heller

(Aug. 13, 2015) — Straight Outta Compton is the new biographical drama film about the 1980s rap group N.W.A.  The title of the film is also the name of the group’s debut studio album as well as the name of a hit single from the album.  The film is directed by F. Gary Gray who started his career as a music video director for Ice Cube and went on to direct feature films such as Friday, The Negotiator, and The Italian Job remake.

Ice Cube’s son in real life, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., plays the iconic rapper in the film alongside Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, and Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella.  The film was produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright.

The streets of Compton, Calif., were some of the most dangerous in the country in the late 1980s and from these streets the gangster rap group N.W.A. was formed.  These five young men, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren, took their experiences from these harsh surroundings and turned it into some of the most brutally honest and controversial music of its time.

N.W.A. never had the intention of becoming superstars; they just wanted something better than dealing drugs in the ghetto.  It wasn’t until their eventual manager, Jerry Heller, came on the scene that the group signed a record deal and began touring across the country off of the success of their debut album, Straight Outta Compton.  Jerry was responsible for making the group a success, but also played a major role in their ultimate demise.  The first to leave was Ice Cube, who went off on his own and had major success as a solo artist and also a movie star.  Next up was Dr. Dre, who formed his own label, Death Row Records, with partner Suge Knight.  N.W.A. as it was once known was finished and the success of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre was followed by the demise and eventual death of Eazy E.

A film critic is supposed to remove any bias they might have towards a film before viewing it.  This way they can make an accurate evaluation on what is presented to them as opposed to a skewed point of view.  I say this because its nearly impossible for me to give an unbiased critique of Straight Outta Compton because that album and N.W.A were such a big part of my childhood.  It was a different era back then, long before social media and the internet, where police violence was constantly in the news and gangster rap was giving a voice to a generation.

On the other hand, not all of the nostalgia from my childhood translates well to the here and now.  That is not the case with Straight Outta Compton, as it lives up to the hype and actually exceeded my expectations.  The film does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the late 80s and early 90s and the performances of the actors were spot-on.  The acting was actually my biggest concern going in, but the three leads hit it out of the park.  O’Shea Jackson Jr. not only looks exactly like his dad, but he somehow managed to capture his essence as well.

The film’s runtime is almost two and a half hours, but not once did I feel like it dragged on.  It is truly an amazing story of how a group of boys from the hood rose to fame to become much more than just gangsters; they would become the voices of their generation and extremely successful businessmen.  Nostalgia aside, Straight Outta Compton is an excellent and well-crafted film and definitely worth the trip to the theater.

Grade:  A-

Straight Outta Compton opens in theaters on Friday, August 14

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