Storytelling is all a matter of perspective. Who is telling us the story? “Straight Outta Compton” has garnered much controversy over what it leaves in and leaves out in the story of the groundbreaking rap group, N.W.A. With former members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube taking on the producing role this is a no doubt a biased biopic. However, I don’t believe it matters. “Straight Outta Compton” may be biased but since this is movie’s rendition of what happened is not a documentary, it’s easy to forgive changes to the real life story (in fact changes don’t’ me bother if it serves in the best interests of the movie). “Straight Outta Compton” is a well-made and engrossing biopic with a lighting energy and brilliant performances from our young cast of actors. The story is dramatic as it is dangerous and emotional. Using other historical events as the back drop to the music director F. Gary Grey paints a poignant picture of America during the superstar rap group’s rise.
As a viewer who doesn’t know much about the N.W.A. I was fully engulfed in the story of the group’s story that started in the dangerous streets of Compton before moving to the equally dangerous world of the record companies, selfish managers and threatening producers. “Straight Outta Compton” may leave out one or two of their most controversial moments but the project seems brave enough to the take the audience down the rabbit hole into a world that many of us are unaware of.
Keeping the film from feeling like a “Behind the Music” documentary is “Friday” and “Law Abiding Citizen” director F. Gary Grey. The sure and confident hand of the veteran filmmaker keeps dramatic tension high in some scenes (like the chaos and danger of the Detroit Concert) but also keeps the characters and situations grounded in reality. Our characters feel like real life people (and look a lot like the people they are based off of too), that’s attributed to Scott’s handling of the material. It’s easy to make the protagonist of our story look like “god” successes and put them into a high pedestal. Gray and screenwriters Andrea Berloff (“World Trade Center”) and Jonathan Herman paint the characters as damaged and imperfect people. Some do less then admirable things; the writers understand that perfection does not equal compelling characters. The wicked dialogue keeps things like light and interesting as well with never a dull moment neither in the script nor on screen.
Wisely enough instead of focusing on all the members of N.W.A. (which would be far too many characters to make a cohesive story out of) the filmmakers and crew keep the story centered on three main members (and later former members) of the group, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. The film opens up on a drug deal gone wrong with Eric Lynn Wright (Eazy-E) narrowly avoiding capture from Police. Eazy-E is played by newcomer Jason Mitchell. Mitchell is perhaps the heart and soul of this film. Mitchell’s performance captures a wide range of different emotions in a character (as mentioned before) far from perfect. The conclusion of his story arc creates for an emotional finale.
Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins (an actor who will be joining Mitchell in Universal’s upcoming “Kong: Skull Island”) and like Mitchell, captures the real life persona of his character. The most convincing portrayal of the real life person is O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube; Cube’s own son playing him. When I originally heard about this casting I was unconvinced that this was a good choice as we’ve seen in the past other father, son duos not working so well (Will Smith and Jaden Smith in “After Earth” anyone?). However I have been completely proven wrong with Jackson Jr. He absolutely pulls off the illusion and making us believe we are watching young Ice Cube age before our very eyes.
The other concern I had going in was the actors may be able to imitate the real life rappers but in the heavier dramatic scenes they may falter. Again though, like O’Shea Jackson Jr., I once again underestimated the movie and its talents. The actors carry themselves through the drama as well as the party scenes. Never once did any of the actors pull me out of the viewing experience.
Is “Straight Outta Compton” perfect? Not quite. The third act does have a tendency to jump around a little too much trying to encapsulate a bit too much of the artist’s history and events. It’s not too jarring at all there is a few moments though that feel a little thrown in.
Despite some minor third act woes, “Straight Outta Compton” is a masterful biopic that is constantly exciting and engaging. One of the biggest accomplishments this movie has achieved is appealing to a wide audience even if you’re not previously a fan of the music. This movie will get overlooked come Oscar season but for now it is the surprise gem of the summer.