Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic, hit theaters and quickly became the number one movie in America. It even broke a record for Universal, making it the fastest studio to surpass the $2 billion mark in a year at the North American box office. Better still, it has the respect of (most) critics and audiences alike.
That’s not to say that it’s not without its hangups. Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, the film tracks the rise and fall of the iconic hip hop group. That alone is a lot of material, and Straight Outta Compton attempts to deliver it all in the span of 2 hours and 27 minutes. As I wrote about in my review, it leaves certain moments in the story un-fleshed out, but the performances and the impact of the story remain strong.
If you didn't see Straight Outta Compton this past weekend, I strongly suggest you do. If you need further convincing, here are some of the film’s major draws.
1. The Music
To celebrate the release of Straight Outta Compton, the real Dr. Dre released an album titled Compton, which, by the way, was streamed 25 million times on Apple Music over the course of its debut week. However, the film itself heavily features the music of N.W.A. and will likely prompt fans to revisit their old albums after hearing them on screen. It starts with Dre recording the group’s first track, "Cruisin’ Down Tha Street" (though it takes him a little while to grasp the flow of the lyrics), and the song that spawned the film’s title, "Straight Outta Compton." Through montages of the characters writing and recording tracks, we hear more of the music that made the group famous, but "F— the Police!" is one of the more poignant musical moments in the film. Gray does an excellent job in portraying the racial climate of the time and the plight of African Americans dealing with the oppressive police force. It all comes to a climax when the group performs the song on stage in Detroit.
2. Its Present Day Connection
Speaking of the racial climate, it’s no secret that this era was marked by racism. As shown in the film, militarized police raided homes on a regular basis, shown in the film when a young woman is brutally struck by an officer, patrol cops regularly discriminated against those who looked "ghetto" or "gangster," and many used brute force to detain African Americans on the street. While the story of N.W.A. played out, the 1991 versions of these characters were watching footage on TV of Rodney King, a taxi driver, beaten by a circle of police officers wielding batons. The uprisings and protests that followed draw a direct line to the present day, where we’re dealing with the aftermath of tragedies surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland. For N.W.A., "F— the Police!" became a rallying cry against this oppression, a war that's still going on.
3. The Performances
O’Shea Jackson Jr., the real life son of Ice Cube, makes his film debut in Straight Outta Compton, playing his father, no less. He underwent a two-year-long audition process before his hard work paid off and Gray gave him the part. It was all well worth the effort. Though Jackson doesn’t have other credits to his name, he truly embodies his father’s mannerisms and finess in the various stages of his life. It’s rare that an actor gets this opportunity, and the resemblance is equal parts striking, eerie, and effective. That’s also not to discredit the performances delivered by Hawkins and Mitchell. Like Jackson, Hawkins embodies the swagger, for lack of a better term, of Dr. Dre, especially in his older years as he becomes a more confident and powerful figure. Mitchell, on the other hand, delivers an emotional portrait of Eazy-E’s final months after realizing he contracted HIV. He later died of complications with AIDS.
As I mentioned before, the amount of material covered in Straight Outta Compton could be broken down into a trilogy of films. Even so, Gray and his actors successfully depicte a harsh time to be an ambitious musician of color, as well as the overarching racially-tempered climate of the age.
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