Last year we saw Clint Eastwood tackle the rise to fame of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons in the lukewarm received Jersey Boys. This year another group gets the biopic treatment in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton which covers the rise and fall of N.W.A.; a notorious hip-hop group responsible for launching gangsta rap in the late 80s. The movie focuses mostly on three of the five members of the band: Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice-Cube. Not a surprising choice as the real Dr. Dre, Ice-Cube and Eazy’s widow Tomica are responsible for producing Straight Outta Compton, but also because Dre, Cube and Easy were the guys who had the biggest careers after the demise of the group in the early 90s.
Straight Outta Compton is a mash-up of genres. One moment you have the feeling you’re watching a hood movie like “Boyz ‘N The Hood”, the other a music bio-pic. The movie is also infused with scenes that are reminiscent from a Rap music video and to top it off a social commentary. This way a broad picture is made about the social settings of life in the hood in the late 80s/early 90s: one minute you’re recording a song in the studio, the next you’re facing the pavement with your fingers interlocked just because you’re black and hanging in front of the studio.
With a running time of 2,5 hours (2,75 if you’re watching the director’s cut like I did) the movie focuses on the group as a whole, but also explores the lives of Cube, Dre and Eazy more in depth. Of these three band members it is mostly Eazy E’s story as the movie opens with him and comes to an end when he passes away due to his illness.
For Hip-Hop aficionados Straight Outta Compton is a must see: not only does it cover the rise and fall of one of the most notorious groups to have ever existed, it also features the start of Death Row records and has cameos by other rappers like Snoop Dog and 2Pac. The soundtrack is full of songs by N.W.A. but also several productions by Dr. Dre of whom the creation of his first solo album is also a part of this movie. What stood out the most is how the early songs haven’t aged that well. The style of rapping feels very dated and the first productions are very rough around the edges. Tracks like “Boyz ‘N The Hood” have no real hook or chorus in them.
Because Straight Outta Compton covers 5 lives over the course of approximately 7 years it’s not surprising not everything that once was a news headline has made it into the movie. But I must admit that a guy like Dr. Dre does come off much nicer than he supposedly is in real life. There’s not one scene in which he’s violent towards women, while in reality there was a whole highly publicized situation where he assaulted TV host Dee Barnes. So to say Straight Outta Compton glorifies the group somewhat is to state it lightly. While no choir-boys themselves, the villainous parts are reserved for mostly white guys: cops and managers. There is however one black character in the movie that is truly evil incarnate: Suge Knight. He moves through this movie like Mephisto offering someone like Dre more money and control, driving a wedge between him and Eazy E.
Straight Outta Compton shows us that the saying “You can get someone out of the ghetto, but can’t get the ghetto out of someone” is true. Even with millions of dollars in their bank accounts, differences between people are solved like they are on the street. At one point the white manager of N.W.A./Eazy-E, Jerry Heller, talks the beaten up Eazy-E out of killing Suge Knight. It was supposedly a decision he regrets afterwards. Apparently sometimes it’s better to solve such a problem like they do on the streets.