Powerful, enthralling, raw; the superlatives just keep flowin’ for Straight Outta Compton, a brilliant biopic from director F. Gary Gray about one of hip-hops most influential groups, N.W.A.
The true story of how three youths, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jnr), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), redefined hip-hop and put their neighbourhood on the veritable music map, Straight Outta Compton is an unflinching love letter to the genre and those who popularised it. With their music being a creative expression of the day-to-day discrimination and violence on the street, the film follows the three teens as they explode into a worldwide sensation, media extravaganza and political nuisance.
In many ways, Straight Outta Compton is the perfect biopic; it dishes out the goods that die-hard fans want to see, whilst also being accessible to complete Lehman’s who only know Ice Cube and Dr Dre because of 21 Jump Street and overpriced headphones. The film excels by placing their work into context alongside the political struggles of the time, without detracting away from the innately personal story being told at its centre.
That being said, the film isn’t without flaws. In adhering so rigidly to the conventional biopic rap sheet, the film does fall into the same conventional trappings; namely the second half which plods along with all the urgency of an overweight tortoise. The compelling and energetic first half soon makes way for in-fighting and legal disputes that span several years. As is the case with many biopics, Straight Outta Compton finds itself carefully moving all the characters along their predetermined arcs so that they may reach a fulfilling conclusion, regardless of how longwinded it may seem.
The trio of actors who step the iconic lead roles are excellent, especially Jackson and Hawkins. One scene where the gang are confronted for innocently loitering on a street corner really showcases this wealth of talent. Paul Giamatti also stars as Jerry Heller, the group’s band manager. Giamatti neatly sidesteps the snivelling, money-grabbing elder cliché with a balanced and skilful performance; easily the most talented actor from the cast, Giamatti takes every scene he’s in to the next level.
The overall length is a slight drawback; Gray insists on pandering to his audience by working characters into the narrative just for kicks, and this elongates the story somewhat. For example, Keith Stanfield plays a young Snoop Dogg, and we’re treated to a scene where Dre and Snoop originally brainstorm the iconic opening riff to ‘Nuthin But a G’ Thang’. This scene, along with a couple of others, doesn’t really contribute to the overall narrative of the film and feels like an unnecessary addition is pure fan service. While not necessarily a fatal flaw, it does mean that the film is knocking on a truly bum-numbing 150 minutes when all is said and done.
The Verdict: 8/10
Putting aside the typical biopic cliches, this is an uplifting rags-to-riches tale that aims to traverse cultural boundaries through a potent mixture of forceful performances, spirited direction and a sizeable dollop of choice tunes.