Release Date: August 14, 2015
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson, Alexandra Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Elena Goode, Keith Powers, Joshua Brockington, Sheldon A. Smith, Keith Stanfield, Cleavon McClendon, Aeriel Miranda
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 147 minutes
Production Company: Circle of Confusion, Cube Vision, Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Universal Pictures
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” Just as the legendary album Straight Outta Compton hit hard in its introduction back in 1988, director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set it Off, The Negotiator, The Italian Job) chose the same lyric for his 2015 film adaptation. Those eleven words are just as powerful now as they ever were, and Mr. Gray made sure the audience knew. Straight Outta Compton is not just another hip hop movie. It’s the true biographical telling of Compton’s hip hop group N.W.A., and their claim to fame. It shows their rise, their fall, and everything in between that led these pioneers to the heights they’ve achieved today. While every moment during their rise couldn’t be addressed, it still focuses on the key moments filling in gaps of history. It is deeply motivating, strong, and creates a voice for the millions out there who don’t have one of their own.
The entire cast in the film is superb. The talent and performances on screen is the foundation of the whole experience. Everyone did a phenomenal job, and it’s clear this film will open many doors to the actors involved. I don’t believe that O’Shea Jackson Jr. took on the role of his father Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Sr.). From what I know of Ice Cube, it appears they went back in time to his younger self and brought him back to the future. Fathers and sons look alike, but goodness gracious, these two are like twins. The similarities between Ice Cube Sr. and his son took the film to another level; their looks, the body language, tone, and demeanor was perfection. The quality in casting is genius, and that’s only the beginning. If you put a gun to my head asking who had the best performance I wouldn’t be able to answer. The portrayal of Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) was spectacular. Since the two only appeared in smaller roles from the past I wasn’t too familiar with their work, but their acting chops made it seem like they’ve been doing this for years. It was captivating the way they emoted on screen, and I was easily convinced. If the real life persons wanted to convey a point of their look on life in the late 80’s, Mitchell, Jackson Jr., and Hawkins did them justice. When the actors were going through pain on screen I felt it to my core.
Without even knowing the quality, when a true story is being told it most likely will deliver. To make an impact it comes down to the process, the collaboration, and the editing; F. Gary Gray created a textbook example. He knew where to start the film, what deserved the most attention, and more. We wouldn’t be here today discussing the film if it wasn’t for the original soundtrack, and Mr. Gray used it in the most insightful ways. Showing the actors on stage, or in the recording booth could’ve been a misfire at the recreation of events. Here it only magnetized the impact the five gentleman had to grow while they grinded their way to the top. While few may consider it a distraction, the whole experience of the film was grander due to the audience singing along with the lyrics. So when a familiar song played over the surround sound, I was bobbing my head back and forth as if I was in the movie. You only get this type of reaction from good storytelling.
The highest points in the film were the first two acts. It was masterful in all its glory. The very reason and why N.W.A.’s journey commenced is front and center. A decision had to be made and the risks taken are respected; that’s what gained your interest throughout. Even if you’re not a fan of rap or hip hop, it’s easy to understand where they all came from. While everything can’t be perfect, it’s not a secret the whole story couldn’t be told. They’re some elements at the origin that seemed skipped over, so it’s unfortunate it was missed when expectations were present. The third act of the film was a whole other movie in itself. It’s not a bad portion of the story, but the energy that was in the first two acts faded away. It just didn’t focus on the music that much, but if the group was on hiatus at that time it’s hard to blame the director. Since this is a true story set in the early 90’s, I already knew the outcome but still was unfamiliar with the events that took place in the first two acts. Then again, the first two acts were centered on the group as a whole; they were a team. During the third act years had passed, the group disbanded, so the story arcs were separate. It did a great job balancing the three main cast, but something else needed to pop out on screen. Just as these young men had all the passion in their early days, that same passion seemed to fade away in their lives, and on screen through the storytelling. It was still a great conclusion to the story, but didn’t end as powerful as it started.
Straight Outta Compton is an enormous hit for the masses. History repeats itself and the story here is as relevant to present day as ever. As producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre teamed up with a fantastic director to tell a story about the growing success and stardom of 5 men who wanted to change the game. The dynamics of their relationship to each other from inception is powerful, and will stand the test of time. It’s a fun ride that will make you cheer, laugh, cry, and show you how important your own voice is, letting it never go unheard. Congratulations to everyone involved for a gem they created, and I can’t wait to witness it again.