Straight outta Compton and straight into the Oscar buzz. It's early and my guess is this movie is forgotten about come Halloween time (just like a majority of the really good movies released in the first eight or nine months of each year are), but for right now this is movie is hot with audiences (over $100 million grossed after eight days) as well as critics (89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) as just about any other movie of the year. As I will explain in my review below, Straight Outta Compton didn't really do anything (besides the music itself) that was amazing on its own, but it did do just about everything really, really well. I wouldn't call it the surprise hit of the year as there were many other movies that flew much further under the radar (Ex Machina and The Gift are the two that come to mind for me), but it was perhaps a movie that had potential to be very good or very bad depending on the acting, which part of the story would be told, and, most importantly, the movie's direction. I'll talk more about F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, The Italian Job) more later in the review, but, long story short, he nailed it. This was his most challenging work to date and his most impressive and, while I think it's an extreme long shot based on the history of the Academy and its voting, his name could still be swirling around as a dark horse for Best Director come December.
I am actually not sure how the film's opening scene related to the rest of the movie, but I will say that I haven't seen a more captivating opening scene yet this year. The first scene does set the tone for the movie, but there will be some sort of percentage of the audience that might be thinking what have they gotten themselves into. I'll be honest. I knew hardly anything about the N.W.A. prior to my viewing. I knew they were a rap group in the 80's and 90's. I obviously knew about Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, but I did not know how these guys got their start. I honestly did not know that they were even associated with each other. My exposure to both men came after they were each well established as individuals and while I personally do not listen to rap music, I appreciate any sort of artist's staying power and both guys are legends in the industry. I know Ice Cube (Friday, Boyz N the Hood) more through his acting than I do his music. My first exposure to the man was when he starred in one of my favorite movies of all-time (Trespass) with Bill Paxton, Ice-T, and William Sadler. It's ironic that when I saw this 1992 movie, I hadn't really heard of the men. I believe I saw movies like Boyz N the Hood, Aliens, and Next of Kin after Trespass (I actually saw Trespass in the theater with my grandmother!).
For me, the coolest part of the movie was the story. As mentioned, I knew nothing about the N.W.A. or the origins of Ice Cube or Dr. Dre. And to be perfectly honest, the first I learned of anything about Easy-E was in this movie. I did not listen to N.W.A growing up. Rap has never been my thing so his heartbreaking story never crossed my radar. I did do a little bit of research before writing this review and, for the most part, the movie portrayed a true story. However, that does not mean that certain components weren't omitted. I know a few people have expressed disappointment with the fact that Dr. Dre's violence against women was not accurately portrayed and that, maybe, he came across looking like a better guy in this movie than he actually was. If this was a big part of who Dr. Dre was as a teenager and someone in his early twenties then, yes, it should have been shown on this film. I won't by any means defend the fact that this was omitted, but I will say that this movie did something that I didn't think it could do. It successfully told the story of three different people over the period of many years in under 150 minutes. That is a feat that is difficult to achieve even the most accomplished of directors let alone one who is still relatively new to the scene.
Now there are actually five members of N.W.A. and the story tries to showcase all five. In this sense, I think the movie under-achieved. I guess if you want to tell the whole story, you have to feature all five members, but I truly feel like DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr. - Out of Time, Battle: Los Angeles) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge - A Good Day to Die Hard, The East) were both very under-developed. Yes, they were the lesser known members of the group, but I actually got them confused with some of the lesser known characters in the movie. I felt like I was being introduced to too many characters and while Brown did try to space out their stories as best as he could, he just couldn't do it for all five. So I'll focus on just the main three members of the group in my review.
Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins - Non-Stop, Iron Man 3), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr. - Ice Cube's actual son), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell - Contraband, Dragon Eyes) are the story and you get to know the origins of each of these three men very, very well. We learn that Eazy-E is identified as the main talent of the group because he is the lead rapper in most the songs. Ice Cube writes a ton of the lyrics but gets less respect. And I could be wrong, but I think the idea of turntable mixing was a relatively new phenomenon at the time so Dr. Dre probably didn't receive the recognition at the start of his career that he might have received even a decade later. But N.W.A. itself, Dr. Dre was a pioneer in the industry. And the fact that he and Ice Cube are household names 20 years later says a lot.
There was enough of a backstory with how the five guys were treated by police officers to show where their true anger stemmed from. And, to their credit, for the most part, they were able to harness this rage and put it towards their music. They weren't the first group to go against authority, but they might have been the first to show absolutely no restraint. Jerry (Paul Giamatti - Sideways, Win Win) signs on to be the group's manager, but it's sort of hard to get a true read on him. His intentions seem good and he seems to know his job, but there is something that doesn't quite meet the eye. It's not just the audience who catches notice of this, but one or two of the other characters too.
Over the course of the movie, we see the successes of the band, their breakup, and their individual careers. We see how they do with their fame and fortune and their setbacks. Some rise. Some fall. And we get to see it all in a way that is easy to follow and makes us feel compassion for each of its leads. Biopics can be hit or miss. There are A LOT of terrible ones out there. This is not one of them. This is really great movie that keeps you engaged the entire time. It doesn't matter if you know the story or if you do not. I would encourage everyone between the ages of 25 and 50 to see this film.
Character Development 9/10 (Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre...absolutely)
Character Chemistry 9/10 (they loved each other...they grew out of love for each other...but nothing felt surprising or out of form)
Acting 9.5/10 (a bunch of relative no-names made the most of their opportunities)
Directing 8.5/10 (truly a great effort by Gray...my only really criticism was the development of DJ Yella and Mc Ren)
Cinematography 8/10 (I liked the late 80's California...the Tower Records brought back some memories. It was really dark and almost grainy at times though)
Sound 10/10 (Duh!)
Hook and Reel 9.5/10 (most intense opening scene at the movies so far this year)
Universal Relevance 9.5/10