DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff • PRO: Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, David Engel, F. Gary Gray, Bill Straus, Tomica Woods-Wright • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Billy Fox, Michael Tronick • DES: Shane Valentino • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge
N.W.A (Niggaz wit Attitude) are a group that could not have started in any other time or place. The political and racial tensions that followed the crackdown on drug-related crime in America in the late 1980s meant that the hip hop world was ripe for more aggressive voices. And, boy, did Dr.Dre, Eazy-E, Ice-Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella rise to the challenge. Straight Outta Compton is unique to biopic genre in that the traditional ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, though utilised, gets brought to new levels. Director F. Gary Gray skilfully examines the context in which N.W.A became the most prominent rap groups of the era- the police brutality, the systematic racism, the poverty, and the gang violence- with an unflinching eye, refusing to tiptoe around important issues. The film also very much points fingers at certain figures in the music industry; point blank accusing them of corruption and all-round crappy behaviour.
Chronicling the years between the groups founding in 1986 to Eazy-E’s death in 1995, the rise and fall of N.W.A is made all the more compelling by the casts astounding performances. All relative newcomers to the industry, Hawkins, Mitchell and Jackson in particular serve as highlights in the film. The characters feel real, which is important, considering that they are based on real people, with real emotions. Giamatti also turns in a reliably good performance as the group’s scheming manager, Jerry Heller. As is always the case with biopics, the question of what real-life events were fabricated to make a good film is hard to ignore. And yet, the tone of the film rings sincere throughout. True, some of the more unpleasant actions of the characters are glossed over (or downright ignored, like Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women), but one only has to look at the film’s producer credits to understand why that is. Problematic though that is, it does not take away from the fact that this is one of the best films about rappers currently made.
Even those who have limited to no knowledge of the history of rap will find this an engaging and well-acted drama. For long-life rap fans, it will give you a new appreciation for the genre and the events that inspired some of its most famous tracks. Recommended!
16 (See IFCO for details)