Let’s just start with the obvious.
I am probably the last person who would be expected to appreciate Straight Outta Compton. In the months leading up to the film’s release last year, I doubt anyone expected me to be a part of the audience. After all, I’m a Caucasian girl from Texas. I may have been born in Oak Cliff but, for the most part, I’ve lived in suburbs, small towns, and a few farming communities. When it comes to music, my taste runs that gamut from EDM to more EDM. I was less than a year old when NWA formed and I hadn’t even heard Straight Outta Compton or Fuck tha Police until I first heard about this movie. Going into the movie, I knew who both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were but, otherwise, I knew nothing about NWA.
And yet, with all that in mind, I was in tears by the end of Straight Outta Compton. That’s proof of how strong a film Straight Outta Compton truly is. I went into the film with next to zero knowledge of what I was about to see but from the very first minute, it captured my attention and my emotions. From the minute I saw Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) fleeing from a police raid at a crack house, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) dreaming of becoming a success, and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) being threatened by both gang members and police, I was totally invested in their stories.
Straight Outta Compton is a big film and director F. Gary Gray is obviously interested in a lot more than just telling a conventional musical biopic. Instead, he uses Straight Outta Compton to explore what it’s like to grow up and live in the shadows of America. That pre-credits raid on that crack house sets the tone for much of Straight Outta Compton, revealing a world where the only escape comes from money and where the police are essentially an invading army.
The film also deserves a lot of credit for capturing the excitement of creation. The scene where NWA records their first album is pure exhilaration and even better are the concert scenes, all of which capture chaos in the best possible way. Perhaps the best sequence comes when a defiant NWA performs Fuck tha Police while a similarly defiant swarm of policeman make their way through the crowd, all holding their badges in the air. In that scene, Straight Outta Compton captures the feel of a society at war with itself.
Straight Outta Compton is an ensemble film in the best sense of the word, with Hawkins, Jackson, and Mitchell all giving excellent and charismatic performances. Somewhat inevitably, Paul Giamatti shows up as their manipulative manager, Jerry Heller. It’s a role that feels as if it was tailor-made for Giamatti and, needless to say, he performs the Hell out of it.
I’ve read that Straight Outta Compton takes some liberties with the historical facts and it’s true that the other two members of NWA — MC Ren and DJ Yella — are both largely portrayed as being bystanders. (That said, Neil Brown did have some funny lines as DJ Yella.) Towards the end of the film, whenever Eazy-E said, “I should have listened to Dre and Cube!,” I was reminded of the fact that Straight Outta Compton was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and not Jerry Heller.
But, historical liberties or not, Straight Outta Compton is an exhilarating and important film and one of the best of the year.