Straight Outta Compton-2015
Director-F. Gary Gray
Starring-O’Shea Jackson Jr., Paul Giamatti
Scott’s Review #517
Reviewed November 12, 2016
The rap group N.W.A. was a highly influential and controversial unit to emerge from Compton, California in the late 1980’s and featured soon to be solo rap artists Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Another member, Eazy-E, rounds out the trio that is featured in this film along with their manager Jerry, played by Paul Giamatti. Straight Outta Compton tells their story.
Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced the film along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, and Ice Cube’s real-life son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. portrays Ice Cube. The film is interesting as a way of learning about the rap group and their rise to and fall from stardom, but the film has a very slick and glossy style that detracts from the grittiness of the subject matter- it feels very Hollywood and overly produced. Especially, since the language is atrocious- almost overly so, as if the point was being shoved down the audiences throat. Additionally, the acting, except for Giamatti, is not too impressive. Lastly, the violence portrayed and the gang stuff seemed a bit stereotypical for my tastes.
The film begins in 1986 and we meet the trio of friends. Determined to provide a raw, honest style of poetry to their music, they eventually meet their manager, Jerry, who takes them under his wing and leads them to their success. Predictably, with success comes jealousy and contract disputes. The film delves into this subject matter as the partying and drug use, womanizing, and violence, all lead to the rap groups constant struggles with the police force, especially since one of their top songs is anti-police.
Impressive is the real-life footage used of the 1991 beating of taxi-driver Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department and the subsequent riots that occurred after the officers were found not guilty of any wrong doing. The racial tension that existed in this city at that time was interesting to revisit and palpable to the films subject matter.
The acting was noticeable to me and not in a good way. The young actor who played Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) was fine, but the others (Jackson) and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E were average at best. In any of their dramatic scenes where they appear to be angry, it just does not work, and the scenes lack grizzle and intensity. Conversely, any dramatic scene that held any gusto belonged to Giamatti, who was excellent in his part. In some ways he made the others seem better, but in other ways their inexperience was evident as compared to his. In any event he only made the scenes he appeared in more genuine. Early in the film, when Jerry lashes out at police officers, it is a meaty scene and forceful.
The film makers certainly went for a message of violence and swearing in this film, but despite these qualities Straight Outta Compton still seems safe and overly produced. This may have had to do with the bright, slick cameras used. In this way it had a studio, high budget appearance that does not completely work. I wanted it to look grittier and dirtier and see more of the seedy side of the business instead of it merely being explained to me.
Women in this film are not treated very well and the characters who are the girlfriends are written sympathetically, but not given much of substance to sink their teeth into. Contrasting this, Death Row Records CEO “Suge” Knight is portrayed as a maniacal, violent man. Straight Outta Compton is clearly a guys film.
I had difficulty relating to any of the central characters except perhaps Giamatti’s and it becomes unclear if Jerry really had been ripping off the members of the rap group or if that is merely their perception. He really seems to care about the members of the outfit, so that part is undefined.
Perhaps this film might hold more appeal for fans of N.W.A., which I never was, and rap is not my preferred style of music, but I can appreciate the biographical way the film explains the trio’s story, ups and downs, reunions, death, and violence, but this film could have been much better and is flawed by its over stylized filming.