Is it possible to write a review of Straight Outta Compton without being either a Dr. Dre stan or a journalist hell-bent on tearing down his legacy? It very well is, and moreso, I think it’s necessary.
Capitalizing on an era where police accountability is being demanded more than ever before, hip-hop pioneers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre collaborate to tell the real-life story of their super group NWA putting Compton on the map while defying police authority as the Rodney King saga plays out ever so clearly throughout the backdrop. To be honest, some of the most gripping scenes in the movie are the eerily realistic police encounters that fueled NWA’s contempt for the enforcers of the establishment – although, an early scene retelling of teen Cube’s tense encounter with a Blood gang OG carried much of the same emotion. I doubt this was an accident; the essence of physical power has its fingerprints all over this movie.
And rightfully so. At its core, Straight Out Of Compton is about the force of oppression and the equal and opposite forces that result from it. The anger and frustration of the main characters make way for the emotional outbursts and outlandish celebrations that blue collar fans go crazy for. The film shines as an aggressive rags to riches story, with early scenes conjuring nuances of Cube’s Boyz In The Hood and later scenes evoking the uncertainty of Belly… even for those who know how it’s going to end.
Which brings up an important point… How much of the movie is actually truth? A myriad of articles have covered the fact that the movie fails to touch on Dr. Dre’s long history of abuse against women, and while I can see how it might have marred the otherwise smooth plot of the already 2.5 hour movie, there sure seemed to be little holding back on the less than desirable activities of the late Eazy E. In fact, the flick starts with him participating in a botched drug deal. Meanwhile, the scene that shows police manhandling the entirety of the NWA crew outside an upscale studio – an incident that led to Cube writing F*** The Police – simply ignores Dre’s 2007 assertion that he and Eazy were riding around shooting paintballs out of a moving car.
Omissions for the sake of preserving heroism aside (this is not the first time historical figures have had their stories “brightened” for mass media) the movie does provide a lot of clarity for the casual fan. Ice Cube’s role as a writer, Eazy not really being a rapper, Dre’s walking away from Death Row, Suge’s ability to make contracts disappear, the conditions of Compton… these are things fans have been looking to get Dre and Cube’s perspectives on. Still, one can’t wonder how different the film would be with input from Suge and Eazy.
Cinematically, the film is a gem. Bright scenes, clever dialogue and casting that puts Notorious to shame are highlights of the box-office hit. The use of the involved rappers’ original music and well done recreations of historical performances provided a strong degree of authenticity and energy. The plot flowed effortlessly from event to event, foreshadowing in ways that felt delightfully obvious to those familiar with the story. Simply put, Straight Outta Compton feels more like an epic drama than a biopic, borrowing from the playbooks of both the traditional rise-and-fall and the hard-knock American success story, all while balancing and intertwining the lives of 3 equally important main characters. Never a dull moment, I assure you.
What I found most conceptually compelling wass that NWA really did put Compton on the proverbial rap map. The A&Rs and culture vultures in the movie didn’t think Compton was ready to produce a star yet, but they kept an eye out as it became a hotbed for talent… Sound like another city you know? #OutHere
If I had to grade Straight Out Of Compton, I’d give it an A-. It’s been said that truth is better than fiction, still the otherwise brilliant film seems to attempt to strike a comfortable balance between the two. Nonetheless, the overall aesthetic of the movie is overwhelmingly great, even for a guy who grew up on Wu-Tang and Biggie and failed to generate even a single Straight Outta…. meme. An intense, inspiring, eye-opening and comical telling of a can’t-miss tale, this is a movie I’ll certainly watch again.