2015 / Director. F Gary Gray.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I vividly remember listening to NWA's groundbreaking debut album 'Straight Outta Compton' when it was first released in 1988. I was at a family gathering and my aunty played 'Fuck The Police' to the room. I was nine-years-old and had no comprehension of album's significance or the weight it carried with it. Hell I don't think that the adults in the room even understood it. I can only assume that the notoriety of the album and the headlines it was generating is what compelled her to play it. That's an incredible thing when you think about it. A room full of white Aussies on the opposite side of the globe was responding to the waves generated over twelve thousand kilometres away. Being a kid I was besotted with the obscenity, and it lead the way to my early teen obsession with Public Enemy.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the long awaited bio-pic chronicling the rise and fall of NWA and the mass hysteria they caused around the world. Starting on the violent streets of Compton the film follows Eazy-E for the most part as he pulls together his friends, forms the group and ignites a lyrical retaliation against the hood life and the corruption of police. With Dr Dre and Ice Cube as the group's creative muscle they become the first successful artist to emerge from the area and would change the face of rap forever.
This is a good film, but it is not a great one and it felt completely rudimental to me. I didn't learn anything new that I didn't already know and, in fact, I often felt like I was watching a live-action adaptation of Wikipedia. NWA's story is a great one and could have been explored with a lot more depth and a lot more detail. Instead it plays into its target audience's hands, which if the screening I attended was any indication, is made up predominantly of wannabe ganstas (my audience was more of the Houso/Wigga persuasion).
All of the film's shortcomings came down to the lacklustre script as far as I am concerned, because the overall direction is good and the casting is brilliant. The ensemble of talent they pooled is sensational. Every single player steps up to the plate and hammers it home. Ice Cube's real life son O'Sheah Jackson Jr is the spitting image of his father and plays the part effortlessly. Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E are also excellent and all three collectively give an electrifying turn, that does compensate for some of the uninspiring and diluted writing. Paul Giamatti, on the other hand. Geeze, I do love the guy but my patience is running very thin. His performance in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the least convincing of all and his hair-piece is unnecessarily distracting. He basically plays the exact same character from the Beach Boys biopic LOVE AND MERCY and dons an equally ridiculous wig.
With all that said, I still enjoyed the film. The accurate recreation of the late 80s and early 90s gave me a sense of nostalgia, which was strangely comforting. It also illustrated how far we've come and yet how little progress has been made in the racial divide. 'Fuck The Police' has never seemed more appropriate than it does right now with unarmed black men being murdered by police in staggering numbers. Perhaps the film will resonate more with younger viewers who don't already know the history and who only know Ice Cube from his movie credits. Come to think of it, that's precisely the case because during a moment in the film where Snoop Dogg is introduced, a young guy sitting behind me said “Snoop Dogg? Is that supposed to be Snoop Lion?” - Oh dear.
I would also like to make the observation that the gangsta rap figures were much better dressed in the 90s. The pants hitched up properly and their shirts were well fitted and ironed. They wore hats properly and kept their bling to a minimum. They rapped about real issues too (what happened to that aspect of rap?). Am I just a cynical ageing honky? Yeah that too.