As I’m sure many of you already know, Straight Outta Compton tells the story of the rise and fall of US rap group N.W.A., showing the in’s an out’s of life from Compton LA to the biggest rap band on the planet. Or at least a version of that story. Director F. Gary Gray has commented “You could make five different N.W.A movies. We made the one we wanted to make”, and given that the film is produced by the remaining members of the group, you have to expect that there maybe some glossing over of certain events to paint them in the best possible light. So whilst it’s not an entirely truthful account of the band’s life, it does still make for an interesting semi-biopic.
To portray the group, they took the sensible decision to use relatively unknown actors in the lead roles, all of which give great and convincing performances. Corey Hawkins takes on Dr. Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr., the real life son of Ice Cube, plays his father, and Jason Mitchell takes on the central role of the late Eazy-E, with Neil Brown, Jr. playing DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge playing MC Ren. Seeing them perform together on stage, they are hugely convincing as the band, and gives you the feeling someone managed to dig up some original N.W.A. footage, which just happens to be in high def widescreen. Mitchell in particular as Eazy-E, not only looks eerily like the real Easy-E, but has the performance to go with it. Given that all the other had their real life counterparts on hand during the shoot to correct any little mistakes they might make, where as Easy is sadly no longer with us, it makes Mitchell’s role even more impressive. Golden Globe Award-winning actor Paul Giamatti (John Adams, San Andreas, Man on the Moon) is also great as the rather sleazy manager, Jerry Heller. It’s Giamatti doing what he does best… playing slightly sleazy characters.
Whilst the film may not shine a light into all the dark places you might get from a biopic made without the people you’re portraying on set every day, it does give an interesting incite into life in those disadvantaged suburbs of LA in the 80’s. There is no question that police brutality was out of control, as was shown in the ’91 beating of Rodney King which started the LA riots. Although some of the arrests shown in the film – such as Dre’s arrest for defending his brother, where as he was actually arrested over hundreds of unpaid parking tickets – might be a fabrication, it does help to give you a feel of the sort of harassment which was happening on the streets, every day in the neighbourhoods.
Straight Outta Compton might not be the most truthful of biopics, but it does make for a great rags-to-riches story, and a fun, well paced film with an incredible soundtrack with some superb central performances. They manage to capture the feel of the live concerts brilliantly, which is no easy task, and it’s a fitting way to honour the memory of the late Easy-E. The director’s cut has an additional 26 mins of footage over the theatrical release, putting it at over 3hrs long, but I never once found myself looking at my watch or thinking it was dragging. The blu-ray release comes with a number of short extras including a deleted concert performance, a behind the scenes look at the filming of the infamous Detroit gig where the band got arrested, and various background interviews with the cast, and the real life surviving N.W,A. members.
Whatever you may think of rap music, or N.W.A. as a band, it’s unquestionable that they made a massive impact on the music scene, the waves of which are still felt today. Many of the worlds most most famous rap artists wouldn’t exist had it not been for 5 guys from Compton finding each other and producing some of the most insightful and ground breaking music of a generation.