Saturday, August 15, 2015

Movie Review #296: "Straight Outta Compton" (2015)

Movie"Straight Outta Compton"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: F. Gary Gray
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
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The story of the rise of the revolutionary yet controversial rap group N.W.A., from their humble beginnings on the streets of Compton to their subsequent global stardom. With success often comes trouble, and in this case, success eventually brought the bitter breakup of key members Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins). 

As middle class white kids from the suburbs of San Diego, we were naturally big fans of N.W.A., one of the pioneers of the west coast/gangsta rap movement. Sure, we didn't have the experience of having to deal or see people dealing drugs or seeing violence and gang activity on a daily basis, but their music was controversial, and as mischievous kids, listening to this music was a something rebellious things we could do without actually getting into any real trouble. #WhitePeopleProblems. "Straight Outta Compton" was highly anticipated by both BigJ and myself, especially as fans of Dr. Dre, and other big, involved rap stars like Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Bone Thugs. This film shows audiences the reality of what the members of N.W.A. faced that spawned the songs that spoke to so many and offended so many others. The three powerhouse members of N.W.A. included Eazy-E, played by Jason Mitchell, who was a drug dealer and not really a musician or rapper, but became one after putting up money to form Ruthless records and produce a single with his friends. There was also Dr. Dre, played by Corey Hawkins, who was a DJ and music producer who arranged the beats and melodies for the vast majority of their songs. Finally, Ice Cube, played by Ice Cube's real life son O'Shea Jackson Jr., who wrote the explosive lyrics to most of N.W.A.'s songs, including their first single "Boyz-n-the-Hood." Though these three are the primary focus, other members of N.W.A. that are prominently featured here are MC Ren, played by Aldis Hodge, who was a lyricist, rapper, and along with Eazy-E, was a member of the Kelly Park Compton Crips; and finally, there was DJ Yella, played by Neil Brown Jr., who like Dr. Dre, was a music producer and worked the club scene with Dre before making it big with N.W.A. All these young actors do a fabulous job in their performances. You almost have to do a double-take when seeing O'Shea Jackson Jr. playing his dad as their family resemblance is clear and uncanny. In fact, upon first seeing the trailer for this film many months ago, we thought the person playing Ice Cube bore a striking resemblance to him, only to find out it was his son. O'Shea Jackson Jr. manages to capture Ice Cube's attitude perfectly, complete with snarl, drawl and all. Jason Mitchell and Corey Hawkings also channel their real life counterparts very well in what has been one of the best ensemble casts we have seen in 2015 thus far, and trust us, this is a tall order to fill. None of these performances seem the least bit phoned in or fake, and each of them do their counterparts justice. Even Eazy-E is somewhat vindicated in this movie. Though a lot of the internal struggle and beef involving E was glossed over (obviously due to time constraints and based on the sheer amount of beef there was), the film manages to portray him (and realistically, all of the members of N.W.A.) in a relatively positive light, but doesn't deny each of them did bad things in their day.

It's amazing where these guys came from and where they wound up, each in a different place and eventually on a slightly different path. Some of them wound up happy, and some, well, one in particular, had their life cut very tragically short. The at-one-time close friends faced many obstacles the music industry, and "Straight Outta Compton" offers up a look at their struggles as not just individuals from the hood, but as a group involving in-fighting over money, the aforementioned personal beefs, and constant exploitation by management and record labels on every front. Eazy-E faced this with Jerry Heller, played by Paul Giamatti, who was E's right-hand man, and for all intents and purposes, made sure E was taken care of and compensated over the rest of N.W.A. Ice Cube also faced this with Brian Turner, played by Tate Ellington, and probably most notoriously, Dr. Dre was given a front row center ticket to the infamous, scandalous, cheating ways of Suge Knight, played by R. Marcos Taylor, which lead to Dre's eventual departure from Death Row Records (and more importantly, the shady death of Tupac Shakur, which I have always insisted is related to that ass-clown Suge Knight). Despite the film's nearly two and a half hour run time, it kept us engaged all the way through and was paced extremely well for a biopic about a rap group. It breezes by its run time rather painlessly. This movie also goes beyond the music. It also deals with pertinent political issues just as prevalent today as they were when N.W.A. was at its peak. Some of the things they rapped about in the late 80's and early 90's are still going in right now in 2015, and if that's not enough to justify their entire careers, well, we just don't know what to say. You don't need to be an N.W.A. fan to enjoy this film and appreciate how well it is crafted.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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