Man that movie was dope. I know that sounds like a stupid pun, but trust me, this movie is awesome.
I don’t listen to much rap or hip hop music, outside of maybe Eminem and a few others. And I was born in 1992, so I wasn’t really aware of N.W.A. and others like them until I was older. I knew of Ice Cube though, having seen some of his movies, which are pretty good (sadly I haven’t seen Friday, I know shame on me). I might’ve heard their music, but if I did, my memory is pretty vague about it. Still, if the music in this film is like the music as it was back then, then it is pretty awesome, and so are the actors in this movie performing it.
Like with other movies I’ve reviewed that are based on “true events”, this movie is based on, well, “true events”, as well as having a sorta traditional three-act biopic structure: the rise and success, the fall, and the aftermath and foreshadowing of where they are now. I did look up stuff (on Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt), and the movie does kinda glance over some things, like Dr. Dre’s issues with women in the past, founding member Arabian Prince not in the film at all (though from what I looked up, there was an “uncredited cameo” of him played by someone), and MC Ren and DJ Yella not given as much screen time in the film as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E. In fact, the only times I see these two are when they’re with other members during scenes that focus on those other members. They aren’t even given their own “where are they now” segment like Dre and Cube during the credits. Most of the movie’s focus is on the stories of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E (I wonder if this has to do at all with Cube, Dre, and E’s widow Tomica Woods being producers of the film, but I digress).
Unlike Joy and The Revenant, other “true story” movies I’ve reviewed, that seemed to focus more on either the “quirkiness” or surrealism, this movie, thanks to F. Gary Gray’s direction and the film’s writing, is more grounded in reality. Its depiction of the characters, the world they live in, the struggles they go through and how they overcome them, the success they achieve, the fall they experience, and their individual paths that sometimes intertwine afterwards and where it leads them, bring an authentic feel to its story because the issues they face, they still resonate to this day.
While the characters usually focused on are Cube, Dre, E, and sometimes Jerry Heller, they are really solid performances. Paul Giamatti playing Jerry Heller seems to be what you’d expect of him being in a movie like this, appearing to be rough yet kind but deep down he is pretty much a devious fellow at times. While it seemed weird at first for Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., to play Ice Cube, after seeing the movie, there was no one else that could do it. Jackson more than just nailed the part, it’s like seeing an actual younger version of Cube himself, and especially surreal when seeing him playing his dad and interacting with a kid who will grow up to be playing his dad in a biopic about him and the music group he founded. Corey Hawkins is masterful as Dre, confident and brash at times, but also thoughtful and wanting to do good for himself and his family. Jason Mitchell is probably as close of a leading man the movie could have, since the movie starts with his beginnings as a drug dealer, forming N.W.A. with the other members, meeting Jerry Heller, his friendships and relationships, and his death from AIDS. The movie does lose some of its strength near the end when it focuses more on E and less so on the other members, not that the depiction of E struggling to keep his career and life going aren’t interesting, but that it almost feels like padding at times. Considering that the movie’s end credits have an “in memory” segment dedicated to him, this is a brutally honest yet also sympathetic, unapologetic, and compelling depiction of a man going from a drug dealer into one of the most prominent musicians and what led to his death.
Straight Outta Compton is a great movie of our time not just because it was about a music group that made a difference in a different time, but that it was about a group of individuals experiencing things that are still happening now in some way, shape, or form. There’s still violence, police brutality, corruption, poverty, disease, racism, and all kinds of bad things still going on and being reported on, so there’s no question of this movie’s relevance showing that. Some say it’s not as bad now as it was then, some disagree, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be people, be it musicians or any other type of artists, or just people in general, trying to bring attention to it and making a difference about it.