Straight Outta Compton
Its amazing what thirty years will do. I grew up not knowing anything about rap music. I grew up in a small farming town where my only exposure to the rap industry was the media’s criticism of it, and so that played a big part in forming my negative viewpoint towards the whole genre. I didn’t really have an understanding of race relations in the States and I had no idea that artists like NWA were providing an important voice to large groups of people. Granted I was only 10 at the time and living far away. But of course times change, I matured and opened my horizons, and though I still dont care for the hip hop music scene, I am at least able to see the value in it.
And this is where Straight Outta Compton works. The movie focuses on the importance of this particular group at this particular time and puts it up against the stereotypical criticisms that the media and the ignorant masses (of which I was a part of) that don’t really understand that. I think it works well on this level, especially in the first half of the film.
Two great scenes in particular highlight this: one in which the whole group is busted by the cops outside their recording studio, and another when they are warned not to sing Fuck the Police at their Detroit concert but do so anyways. Both of these moments highlighted their reasons for doing what they do.
Perhaps the movie’s most successful accomplishment is how it binds us to these characters on an intimate level despite them being some of the biggest names on the music scene. Jason Mitchell gives a great performances as Easy E, Corey Hawkins plays a perhaps too noble version of Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube is played by his own son in a performance which can be rather weak at moments but draws you to his character anyway. Paul Giamatti is also strong as their manager Jerry, especially in the aforementioned scene outside the studio.
However while I believe this is a very good film, I’m not convinced its great. I think it has enough potential that it could have been great mind you, but a couple subtleties prevent it from being so. The main thing is that while I feel like the first act does a good job of showing their roots and starts to build upon why their music is important, I dont feel like it goes deep enough into that. The Rodney King trial is featured in the film, but considering that was basically a vindication that their music did indeed have meaning, it wasn’t used properly in portraying that.
I also felt like the movie began to wander in the last act and the threads of the once tight plot began to loosen. The Suge Knight stuff felt like a diversion, and the telegraphed cameos by certain other famous rappers feels cheesy. Easy E’s story, while touching, also feels like a tangent. But its gotta be real hard to cut out his death scene, despite the fact that it may have resulted in a tighter narrative. I think that if they really went into NWA’s role of speaking for a generation of people facing the injustice of the King trials and the riots, that would have made a great climax for what the movie was trying to say. Instead when get into the three separate storylines of the leads which meander a bit. I also really disliked the credit sequences.
Even though I feel like there were certain flaws in the film preventing it from rising high, I’m really just splitting hairs. This is still an outstanding movie with characters you will care about, great production values, and an interesting story when it avoids being too biopic-y.