HOLLYWOOD—When I first witnessed the trailer for “Straight Outta Compton” I knew I was witnessing something special. Oh, what a wonderful experience to see a film that chronicled the rise and disbandment of a rap group that completely changed the dynamics of the music industry in the late 80s and the early 90s.
“Boyz in the Hood” was the first film in my opinion to deliver a true depiction of urban life on the big screen. The chaos of the violence surrounding young African-American males in the inner city, gang life, parenting styles, racism and so much more was depicted in that flick, which have similar overtones here. It’s almost like a beacon of hope to see a film of this magnitude, which chronicles the rise of N.W.A (N***z With Attitude) in a time where police brutality against Black males is at an all-time high, and how racial profiling still hasn’t changed 30 plus years later.
If someone suspects you have to be a fan of hip-hop or come from the inner city to enjoy such a flick, erase that notion from your mindset. This is a tale really pointing its focus on characters that see an opportunity to escape the madness surrounding them, utilizing their gifts to their advantage. The film pays close attention to Eric “Easy-Z” Wright (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Yes, the group consists of five players, but as a viewer it becomes evident that DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Adlis Hodge), don’t receive ample screen time compared to their counterparts.
I mean, each of these gentlemen come from backgrounds that are not pretty at all. Eric is deeply invested in the drug game and he nearly pays for it with his life during a raid. Dre is grappling chasing his dreams while be hassled by his mother that what he’s doing is not enough to keep a roof over his head, and Cube is the poet who sees way too much violence and mayhem in his neighborhood.
Yes, the music in the movie is phenomenal, but the drama is golden in my opinion. As a viewer you become invested in the lives of these characters, and those who are fans of the group are well aware how some things transpired, but to see things unfold on the big screen only puts things into perspective. We see where they are in the beginning, rising to the top, feuding with one another, dealing with death, the music industry, police brutality, racism, and ultimately the disbandment of the group and Dre and Cube venture out to establish solo careers.
Paul Giamatti is perfect casting as Jerry Heller, the man that Eric recruits to help manifest this rap group and keep them on the course of success. The relationship between Heller and Eric is an interesting one as it’s apparent Eric has the closest bond with him; almost like a father. So imagine his reaction when he learns that the group’s manager has been secretly making his pockets fat, without the others having any idea? The argument could be made that “Straight Outta Compton” has political overtones, and one would be absolutely right.
For those in the dark, when the group released that single taking aim at the police, it led to massive uproar with the conspiracy theory that the group was advocating hatred towards police. Arguments can be made for both sides, but the direct approach to the song was artists depicting what they saw in their daily lives. Whether or not someone likes what is being heard is not up for debate, it’s their truth, which is why the group’s music resonated universally with so many fans.
Director F. Gary Gray does a terrific job meshing music, drama, character development and much more in a film that runs close to 150 minutes. Not once did I feel the pacing was rushed, uneven or negatively impact the movie. The acting is top-notch, particularly from Mitchell who is the glue to the group. Jackson Jr. is a dead ringer for his father, I swear if I didn’t know who Ice Cube was the kid played his father to absolute perfection: appearance, mannerisms and speech, this kid had everything wound up in a nice little bow. There are tons of appearances from actors depicting Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and host of others.
I expected “Straight Outta Compton” to deliver some exciting storytelling skills and this film set the bar higher than I ever expected.