“We NWA. They Ruthless.”
This is the
auto biography of the E…and Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Straight Outta Compton, California rises a few young individuals: Dope dealer Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), lyrical master O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), up-and-coming producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), rapper Lorezo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and disc jockey Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown. Jr.).
Together, they make it out of the rough environment by forming a rap supergroup known as N***az Wit Attitudes, or N.W.A for short. Quickly, the unit finds massive financial success and popularity in addition to national controversy as a result of their reality rap lyrics. Success breeds success, but it also breeds contempt. Not just from the outside, but within the group itself.
Ask any hip-hop/rap aficionado about some of the most important acts in the musical genre’s history and there’s basically no doubt that N.W.A will come up. Loved or hated, whether one likes rap or not, the group was important and did much to spearhead the genre. Why shouldn’t they have their story told in the form of Straight Outta Compton?
Straight Outta Compton is an entertaining look at the explosive N.W.A. supergroup, from its members’ origins to their triumphs to their failures and aftermath. Only hearing the story before through books and tidbits, it is intriguing to peek into what largely went down behind the scenes, which, to yours truly, is more compelling than the national controversy everyone knows about. With that said, the story is told with the massive influence of executive producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
Clocking in at almost three hours, the pair have managed to pack in a lot of content. Not all of it is needed (more than a few indulgent parties), and that which doesn’t make its way in the runtime was. A lot worse could have been done in how they painted themselves, but still, there are moments that indicate an idea of the duo maybe believing that they (N.W.A) were more important than they actually were in the grand scheme of things. Other moments, like the beef between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, are barely touched upon. No Real Muthaph***in G’s? Fans who came to only see MC Ren or DJ Yella are going to be disappointed. They are very much the background personnel to the three-man troika that is Eazy, Dre, and Cube.
Regardless, there is real energy in the story, told traditionally, with no narrators or any weird timeline-hopping. The length is felt in the last act, however, with the heavy drama and mending of fences, some works and some doesn’t. If anyone is coming for the music, it will be a shock if they leave disappointed. Anytime when the group is dressed to the nines in black gear performing, it is something special. All of their musical staples exist here and are mixed wonderfully during the concert scenes, with only one odd flub occurring when the performer Eazy-E is clearly shown to be lip syncing. Otherwise, the production and editing is masterful.
The biggest surprise of Straight Outta Compton is easily the acting. Only Paul Giamatti as the divisive manager Jerry Heller is an established force in Hollywood. Everyone else is a relative unknown, which works well and makes it easier to see only the character that actor is portraying. The casting department, and to an extent the costume department, deserves a lot of credit for selecting and outfitting the performers to look like pretty much carbon copies of the famous figures, from the stars to the brief one-offs. Of course, that only goes so far, and thankfully most resembling these famous figures have the goods.
Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E gets the most to do from a character evolution standpoint, and he even steals a scene or two from Giamatti at the end. As Dr. Dre, Corey Hawkins is the more reserved and even-keeled of the trio which sometimes doesn’t make him stand out like the other two, but he is good. Rapper O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays his own father in this, and in his first acting role he never looks overwhelmed. Like the elder Ice Cube who has many notable mannerisms and a distinct voice, the son draws on all of the experience of being around the father his whole life, even appearing to use his own voice in many of the musical performance scenes. If not, he is very convincing in how it looks and sounds.
Collectively, they and the other guys playing MC Ren and DJ Yella have a nice dynamic and really click, solidifying the group aspect. There’s humor, tension, uncertainty, and more that plays out among the members. The weakest performances come from other side characters who end up coming off as more caricature than an actual person.
Word to the mother. Straight Outta Compton does sweep stuff up under the rug, like a lot of biopics do. As runtime goes on, it isn’t as unflinching as the lyrics featured in many of the group’s songs. But what is told of the story of “The World’s Most Dangerous Group” should be entertaining for N.W.A superfans, and potentially even more so for newbies.
Photo credits go to nydailynews.com, Associated Press, and dailymail.co.uk.
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