Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

Universal Pictures

Straight Outta Compton
3.5 out of 5 Stars
F. Gary Gray
Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Rated: R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use
Recommended To: Anyone interested in understanding the enduring popularity of Hip Hop music.

Synopsis: The rise and dissolution of legendary Hip Hop group N.W.A.

Review: I don’t think I realized how much I was looking forward to seeing Straight Outta Compton until I was sitting in the theater with only a handful of minutes before the screening was to start. I’ve never really understood Hip Hop culture. I don’t connect with the lyrics, the fashion or the prevailing attitudes. I am by nature curious, particularly when it comes to the social aspects of movements. I hoped to find in Straight Outta Compton a window into what it was fueled the rage and bravado that defined the N.W.A sound.

The first third of the film is fantastic as director F. Gary Gray paints a horrific picture of Los Angeles in the late eighties; a picture that would eventually be exposed when the LAPD took their batons to Rodney King while George Holliday filmed the brutal attack from his balcony. It would be naïve to think that what happened to King was a one-time event. Compton was an epicenter of despair and violence. The brutality of gangs was mirrored by the push back provided by the police. Even the most innocent of bystanders were guilty by association; an association that was determined by the color of their skin.

From this N.W.A. was born.

I can’t speak to how accurate the film is in portraying the formation of the group. The Wikipedia story doesn’t quite match what is shown in the film and just because Dr. Dre and Ice Cube served as executive producers doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t tinker with the details to make for a more streamlined story.

Once the group is formed and finds success the film moved from being a compelling document of police brutality and inner-city life to a fairly standard music industry tale. There is the interesting dynamic of the group’s manager, Jerry Heller, taking advantage of the young men’s naiveté and pocketing a large share of the profits. It’s not an unusual story, but in the context of the film it carries a certain weight in that Heller is a white man exploiting a group of young African Americans who are rebelling against the establishment N.W.A’s success, in a strange twist of fate, benefited the system that they were fighting against.

N.W.A’s anger, frustration and celebration of rebellion might have been reckless, but it also was a justifiable response considering the environment. It’s rather frightening that the issues that inspired N.W.A are the same topics that dominate contemporary headlines. Straight Outta Compton isn’t just a piece of nostalgia, it’s a contemporary thing.

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