Well, this review is as spoiler free as I need to be given that all this really happened. While I am not the target audience (I grew up in an upper middle class suburb where LL Cool J was as hardcore as it got), I had been looking forward to this movie since it was announced. I had high expectations that this moment in music history could produce a strong biopic. Did they deliver?
Absolutely. This film delivered! It made you laugh. It moved you to tears. It got you angry at the injustice of inner city poverty and race relations. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a really strong adaptation of one of the most significant musical shifts in the past quarter century.
What I Liked:
- The Cast. I must admit. When I heard Ice Cube, Jr. (Note: making a joke calculating Ice Cube to the second power requires math skills I do not have) was playing his dad just because they looked identical (they really do!) I was frustrated. Could he nail the part or would he just look the part? My concerns proved frivolous, as he nailed the part. Ice Cube was probably the hardest to play because he is now such a public figure. His son clearly had been paying attention to his old man because the mannerisms and swagger are down cold. Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy E) were also incredible. Along with Ice Cube, the casting of these two pioneers of gangster rap were crucial to the film’s success and director F Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator, and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” video) picked the perfect actors to play them. These three young men should all get juicy roles in the days ahead.
- The Humor. Gray had the courage and vision to weave actual comedy into the film. A less confident director would’ve stuck to the pure angst and drama that surrounded NWA as they rose to prominence and infamy. Fortunately, Gray directed Friday and knows how to make people laugh as well as feel. Jason Mitchell was particularly funny as Eazy-E and there were several moments in the film that my audience was cracking up. Gray was smart to show the fun times this crew had before things soured.
- The Mood. I am child of the late 80’s and early 90’s. That is really the time I identify with, and this film takes you back and captures that era perfectly. This is an impressive feat because that’s a tricky era to nail. There aren’t the obvious cultural identifiers for the 90’s like there are for the 60’s or 70’s. Even the 80’s allows you to show Reagan or Max Headroom and get people in the mood. Interestingly, Gray and the cast demonstrate that NWA and the onset of rap was probably one of the most significant pop culture developments of that era. It is also worth noting that the struggles of NWA parallels the current focus on social injustice in the United States. Some problems do not go away just because we lose our focus on them from time to time.
- The Music. As I said above, I was not a rap fan back in the day (I was distracted as The Gin Blossoms were just rising up to capture suburbia!) but I loved the music in this film and how it was employed. The defiant protest music of NWA framed the film perfectly. I may have to go buy me some NWA, because Straight Outta Compton convinced me that rap was the Bob Dylan of the modern age.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Cube and Dre Seemed Too Saintly At Times. They are the two principles still alive and both actually produced the film. Even though it showed the rough spots in their lives, I felt like we might have been missing out on a fair narrative because of their involvement. Eazy-E and Jerry Heller take a beating, and maybe it was 100% deserved, but I would have preferred a little more objectivity so I could feel more comfortable I got as much “truth” as a biopic can offer.
- It Allllllmost Got Melodramatic In Spots. This is a classic risk for any biopic. You want to show important events without getting too caught up in the fact that these were important moments. Rarely do people who are making history know how historic their lives are at the time. There were a couple of lines of dialogue where it felt like Gray forgot this rule.
Overall: I really liked this movie. It hit all the high notes and entertained the whole time.
I give Straight Outta Compton 8.5 Eazy-E Pool Parties out of 10.