F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) directs this engrossing 147-minute film with a formidable crew that captures each character’s situation, talents, and life dreams.
The Oscar® nominated original screenplay begins in 1986 as the rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes) forms in the area of Compton near Lost Angeles, California. Events culminate in 1988 when the group dynamic solidifies as they release their debut album of the same name that rockets these five musicians into superstardom. This cultural touchstone creates a new dynamic relationship between law enforcement and African-American males who already have a strained relationship overall. By 1995, the group finds hope, tragedy, and closure as they go their separate, individual ways.
These characters find a way to solve problems creatively without violence though extreme situations involve some violence in the plot. It’s often a male’s instinct to “fire back” when people offend, disrespect and outright threaten, but self-control and strategy can ultimately prevail.
Filmmakers paint the tension-filled mood very well, especially that amazing shot after the initial police harassment sequence (Ice Cube comes out of house after first talking with Dre after Cube moved out of his house)…the nightscape and those memorable and somewhat eerie palm trees in the background made me think of Vietnam war movie scenes.
Several outstanding musical moments that gave me exhilarating satisfaction are well complimented by select songs from Dr. Dre’s album inspired by this film, especially the strong “Talking To My Diary”. Characters have fun in the studio enjoying each other’s company and stretching their creative talents. Audiences even get to experience some memorable “out of group” moments like the origin sequence of Dr. Dre’s “Aint Nothing But a G Thing”.
This infectious music anchors the film along with the cast’s great screen presence that equals and sometimes surpass the actual person the film is based on. Jason Mitchell plays NWA’s founder Eazy-E. O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his dad Ice Cube while Corey Hawkins plays Dr. Dre. Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge plays MC Ren.
The stress and personal tragedy can make strong emotional connection with audiences though it’s hard to emotionally attach these protagonists in a deeply positive way when they engage in absolute debauchery.
Paul Giamatti’s role as agent Jerry Heller supplies some great emotional moments where characters question societal roles and stereotypes. These progressing events break through many of society’s elements as well as many personal point-of-views. Eazy-E initially has a slighted view of Jerry’s professional capabilities. “Work with anyone this decade?” he quips to Jerry. Eventually Eazy-E defends Jerry when ridiculed. “It seems I could do something for you,” says Jerry who’s initial intentions seem honorable.
Tate Ellington plays Priority Records executive Bryan Turner, another important figurehead in the group’s always dynamic saga. Warren G, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Chuck D and the antagonistic Suge Knight also make memorable, but relatively short appearances relating to music collaborations and partnerships.
NWA affected so many people, especially in their home area near Los Angeles. Everyone had a strong opinion on screen and off. “Rap is not art,” says one police officer. In retrospect, direct communication could have saved some heartache and hurt feelings. Characters jump to conclusions and assumptions that cut them short of their full potential as they struggle with decisions and never make a decision without due process. Audiences get a realistic sense of power in each N.W.A. member’s decisions and the breakthroughs they made as artists, activists and U.S. citizens.
The financial side also creates an interesting dynamic, especially how money can become the measure of a man’s success. Filmmakers present the legal and financial elements well without bogging down the audience with details. “Lawyers create the problem when there is no problem,” says Jerry, which provides a good example of an identifiable mantra that’s used instead of a detailed explanation that would unnecessarily prolong the dialogue.
The drug world, local gangs and racial tensions also factor into the plot. The Rodney King trial verdict elements really pack a punch especially in a key visual scene with Bloods and Crips and their respective bandanas. Audiences can see how all these important elements create rivalries on several levels including existing relationships from each character’s upbringing and street life.
This film uses several audio clips and news footage for the background, but could have used more because some character dialogue is so exclusive that audience are likely lost with a visual reference. Any film should be aiming for the widest audience possible and be able to communicate the same thing in a simple way. For example, the quick reference to Ice Cube’s screenwriting work on the film Friday may not mean anything to general audiences.
The plot gets a bit slow near the end and the hospital sequences could have been edited down though overall, Straight Outta Compton was an engaging film with excellent sound work and a high interest plot that means more to audiences who experienced the events at the time. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for profanity throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler