Every biopic of a rags-to-riches celebrity-type tends to have the same generic feel and the same generic message akin to Sam Rammy’s Spiderman. And that is, with great power comes great responsibility. Most celebrity biopics trot through on this vein with a slightly altered message and that is something like “With fame and fortune, you will lose sight of who you are”. And this is certainly true for some of the characters featured in the film Straigh Outta Compton, but not true for all of them. What makes this film truly stand out, however, isn’t how they fit into a particular mold the best– but how they’re able to capture the characters so perfectly that there is no question of the validity of much of what goes on in the film. Events that, to the average audience at first glance, would seem ridiculous and made to be more dramatic than they really were. What keeps this movie grounded is that there is nothing average about the men depicted in the film, they lived (live) incredibly interesting lives and, while they weren’t the first group to have accomplished fame and fortune, they certainly did it the best.
The only thing that might stop this film in the box office is not being able to reach a wider audience. Many traditional or conservative folk might discount this film just because it is about rap, and it is about rap– but it’s also about so much more. People might miss out on such an incredibly well-made film simply due to their own bias and this is where the movie might fail if you can really call that failure at all…
In the 1980’s the streets of Compton, California were among the most dangerous around. There was gang violence, police brutality, poverty and drugs everywhere. We initially meet Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) while he is presumably about to get murdered during a drug-deal gone wrong. A murder that is interrupted by the police who storm their way into the crack-den with a literal tank. Eazy-E flees the scene and is able to get away unharmed. We run into Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) whilst he is getting kicked out of the house by his mother because he chose to follow his dreams of music rather than take a dead-end job like everyone else. We first see Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson jr.) when he is riding on a school bus, writing rhymes in a notebook (which seems a bit cliché…) when a car full of gangbangers rush into the bus and threaten the students with guns. Not to rob or steal from them — but to warn them to stay in school because gang life is tough.
They all know each other, for the most part, E, Cube and Dre, and with Eazy-E’s financial backing– presumably drug money– and Dr. Dre’s urging, they decide to take on the music world. Armed with their first hot single and their recording company now called “Ruthless Records”, they quickly get discovered by Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti) who wants to help them become stars.
And they do, they become practically famous overnight and so begins their life of debauchery, partying, alcohol and more. In the middle of all that, however, a sort of revolution begins. They were among the first rappers to rap about their reality. One of them says during an interview that their art is a reflection of their reality. There are uproars, both good and bad, toward their music. The bad coming from the lighter-skinned side of society and or police force who believe that their music is doing nothing except inciting violence and aggression towards others. The good coming from the minority who finally feel that they have a voice. These results of these two opposing sides result in violence from both and mayhem across the board.
How will these Compton rappers deal with their fame? How will they deal with each other– will they grow apart or grow together? Ultimately this story revolves around them and how they changed their world and the world around us and how they chose to navigate through all the turmoil and distractions.
This films captures its characters perfectly. The main three E, Dre and Cube were spectacular– but even smaller cameos like Snoop Dogg and Tupac were done very well and very believable. Jackson Jr. had to have been getting pointers from his father the whole time– or maybe he picked them up at home because he WAS Ice Cube. But Jason Mitchell and Corey Hawkins were by no means slouches either, they channeled their characters extremely well during every part of this film.
The pacing was another thing done extremely well in the film it was a two and a half hour film that felt a lot shorter because they divided the film into distinctly different acts that allowed you to get all the information you needed and get a feel for things, but didn’t leave you in a particular act so long that you found yourself being bored. Many movie make pacing mistakes by either taking way to long on one thing until your brain starts yelling “move on!!!” or do time skips and other junk that leaves out far too much information (Fantastic Four for instance). This movie balances the two very well especially if you consider the time span they’re dealing with along with the diverse characters shown in the film.
There was a lot of sex and demeaning of woman in this film (cue feminists…) and it certainly could have been toned down a bit in this film (although I suspect it could have also been very VERY ramped up…) but this movie stays true to their characters and the source material. They show these things because they really happened, but they do not spend too much time on it like they might do in other music industry films and they definitely do not glorify it by the end of the film either. Giamatti’s character even warns Eazy-E to slow down and to take better care of himself during the film.
This film isn’t displayed so much as a social commentary either, although police violence is definitely something that is widespread in the media today and one could draw comparisons, it is written just like how the artists of the NWA wrote their rap lyrics. It was just reality, nothing more nothing less. The men of the NWA were threatened, beaten and arrested by cops and so were many others that were less famous (hence the song FUCK THE POLICE which is a big point of controversy throughout the film). And this is where the film shines– by grounding it in reality they do not show the heroes of the film as altruistic martyrs, but as artists telling a narrative of their own lives and sharing their common experiences with the world.
Additionally, the dynamic between Eazy-E and Giamatti’s character was a great addition to this film as you see Giamatti go from being a father figure to E and then he transforms into more of a Brutus. And, even though you’re exposed to the type of person Jerry is, you still do not want it to be true and neither does E.
Plot (out of 20)
The concept as been done before with themes we have all seen, there is nothing new here– it is their execution of things we have seen that makes this film really shine and standout to me. (13/20)
Characters (out of 20)
The characters were truly interesting in this film and done spectacularly well. They are charismatic and likable in their own way and bring something unique to NWA. You see them grow both physically and mentally throughout the film and find yourself caring for the characters even when they’re doing everything wrong. (20/20)
Acting (out of 20)
The actors captured the essence and the mannerisms and the styles of their respective characters perfectly. Like I said previous O’Shea Jackson Jr. could step into 23 Jump street as Ice Cube tomorrow and I would believe it. Dre and Eazy-E were also captured perfectly as well, it is very clear from watching this film that the real Dr. Dre and Cube were giving these actors a lot of direction and that direction pays off in the film. (20/20)
Storytelling (out of 30)
While the story did contain a bit too much sex and nudity for my liking– I recognize that their could have been way more and that the sex wasn’t, generally, just for show. The pacing was great in this film and succeeds where many biopics have failed. in most biopics you either need to embellish the story like crazy to make it interesting or you stick so closely to the source material that the final film is boring and dry. This film, however, balances both extremely well and doesn’t keep you too long in any one act so that the film takes on a different feel or pace while watching it. (25/30)
The trailers had a great balance of telling you what the entire story will be about without showing you all the best scenes in the film? The film still had a lot to show me and, more importantly, it made me want to see the film. They also didn’t overplay the trailer (Like the Everest film…) and I definitely appreciate that. (10/10)