In short: Yup.
I know, I know. I am OVER a month late with this and that’s my bad, but I figured y’all needed time to collect yourselves and actually see it. And so I would be free to talk about spoilers.
Beware of that.
Anywho, I made it clear over a month ago that I was extremely hype about Straight Outta Compton for more reasons than one. And let me tell you:
I was not disappointed.
But before I try my hand at explaining how great this movie was, here’s a brief summary courtesy of Screen Rant:
Straight Outta Compton takes us back to inner-city Los Angeles in the latter half of the ’80s, to the gang violence and brutal policing policies of Compton, California’s streets. There we meet Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), a hard-edged drug dealer who’s running out of luck when it comes to avoiding death and/or jail. Eric’s friend Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) is a local DJ dreaming of hip-hop glory, while weighted down by the burdens of being a father and struggling to make ends meet. Dre’s friend O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) is a gifted hip-hop poet just trying to survive daily life as a Compton youth – but when he and Dre unite on stages at local clubs, it’s clear that their “hardcore hip-hop music” is something special.
Backed by Eric’s [relentless hustling skills and money], Dre launches “Ruthless Records” gathering local talent like Cube, E., and friends DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) into a hip-hop group that can bring the unique sounds and realities of life in Compton to the mainstream music scene. Before long, the boys have an enterprising manager named Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), a new image as”the world’s most dangerous group,” N.W.A., and a string of hit records that make them rock stars to the youth. However, that same hardcore image and fame makes this rap group and their growing movement a frightening new target for mainstream America to demonize. But before they can take on the challenge of worldly attention, N.W.A. finds themselves imploding from internal conflicts – a fracturing that propels Cube, Dre and E. down very different life paths of success, fame failure and ultimately, reconciliation.
At any rate, Straight Outta Compton is a film that starts in a big way and ends in a big way too, with lots of good and impactful things happening in between. Currently, it stands as the highest grossing musical biopic ever and the honor is well-earned.
So, without further ado, here are my reservations—good, bad, and “eh” about this movie. Like I mentioned in my Pitch Perfect 2 review, this review will be more condensed than my usual fan-fare because college has once again started and I am crunched for time. I will also be littering tweets from Ava DuVernay throughout this piece as she had a lot to say about this movie like I do:
I honestly don’t know where to begin when as it relates to everything good in this movie because there’s so much to cover. However, if I were to start anywhere, I’d start with the characters in the movie and then work my way through.
So, while the movie did deal with N.W.A as a whole, its focus mainly lied with Eazy-E, Dre, and Ice Cube (first introduced in that order and then it varies), their lives up until the beginning of the movie and then thereafter.
Before I even elaborate on them, I have to applaud the casting and costumes for the film. From the clear cut ’80s Compton fashion (shoutout to the Raiders) to the freakin’ Jerry curls, I was loving it. I was also impressed with the actors chosen for the three leads including Corey Hawkins (Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy E) and O’Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube).
Mitchell and Jackson’s performances in particular stuck with me. Not only was Mitchell able to catch the delightful swagger that poured out of every orifice of Eazy-E’s body (that iconic scene of Eazy-E laying down lyrics penned by Cube on a Dre beat in the studio was GREAT. Mitchell’s Eazy goes from bashful to unapologetically brash real quick), but he was also able to relate an emotional depth to Eazy-E that maybe even some fans were not used to seeing (the scene in which Eazy finds out he is HIV positive is a perfect example of this).
O’Shea Jackson Jr’s portrayal, on the other hand, was a riot. I f*cking loved it. Like, it was seriously uncanny (and slightly unnerving) how well he was able to nail down his father’s quirks and mannerisms. From where I’m concerned, dude wasn’t acting. He BECAME Ice Cube.
That said, because of strong characters like these, the movie ended up having some really strong legs to stand on. One of the things that benefited most from these characterizations was the subsequent character relationships that followed and the events that unfolded around them (mostly historical in nature, but I’ll be getting to that soon).While there was A LOT to pack in this movie and not enough time to do it all, F. Gary Gray managed to sneak in some quick snapshots of the relationships of the World’s Most Dangerous Group, which was enough to invoke some type of emotion as the film progressed. From the close-knit relationship between Dre and Eazy to the unbreakable—while at times strained—bond that N.W.A as a group shared, Gray sought to show us the humanity of this “dangerous” group and succeeded in doing so.
Now, backing up to that one thing I said about events unfolding around N.W.A:
While this film was obviously here to produced to showcase the lives and times of N.W.A, this film also attempted to portray their story within the bigger scope of historic events (whether it succeeded in doing so is something I will address in the “Eh” section).
Two big events that it covered and/or alluded to in this regard is The War on Drugs and the Rodney King Uprising.
Both events are irrevocably tied to the history of racial injustice in this country and the devaluation, the exploitation, and straight up abuse (re: police brutality) of Black and Brown bodies and lives. Thusly, it came as no shock when Gray not only used these events to draw uncanny parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement of today but also used these same events as a vehicle to deliver some of the most iconic and bombastic cinematography I have seen thus far.
From the film’s opening sequence to the setting up 1980’s Compton in authentic fashion, Gray wanted his potential audience to be holding onto their seats from start to finish.
1. The War On Drugs
While this theme/event wasn’t as threaded through the entire film as much as the Rodney King Uprising, Gray used the opening sequence as a way to communicate the extent of this horrific period in history and some of the sh*t that happened as a result.
Lovers of the Zoo, when I tell you that it was one of the best opening sequences I’ve seen in awhile—which is saying a lot since I watch hella movies and have grown somewhat bored with them lately.
In the opening sequence, we follow Eazy-E and his earlier days on the streets of Compton, hustling and slinging dope to get by. As the movie begins, he arrives at a house to pick up his latest batch of cash. The lighting is incredibly low and shadows are cast, giving this particular situation the sinister feeling that it invokes.
Pretty soon, Eazy-E gets into an argument with his boss over the lack of money he is receiving this week and while it becomes pretty clear that Eazy-E should probably not be asking all these questions, with his bosses roadies being posted up with guns and what not, he keeps pressing and this is the earliest indication that Eazy-E is a force to be reckoned with.
However, no sooner that this argument commences, they are alerted by a lookout signal that the cops have arrived
And all hell proceeds to break loose.
While the cronies rush to hide the money and flush the drugs, Eazy-E flees the scene with a speed that I can only dream of possessing. Police dogs burst onto the scene and chase every-damn-body in every direction. Tanks (re: police
militarization) barrel down the street, threatening to crush anything and everything in their paths. A motherf*cking battering ram—you read that correctly—bursts through the front door and literally takes out one of the female
cronies WHILE SHE IS SITTING ON THE COUCH.
Red and blue lights paint the house as Eazy-E flees through the back window and parkours. HARD. Dude is scaling buildings, jumping across roofs, and rolling as he attempts to not break anything and stick his various landings
This is chaos.
This is madness.
This is war.
Unequivocal and extremely brutal war.
And at the end of this extremely high stakes sequence, the opening title card (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) is suddenly SMACKED onto the screen and lets you know what in the hell you are in for.
It is superb opening in that regard, but also particularly troubling too.
And that’s how it should be. You should be troubled that this is part of history. U.S. History.
2. The Rodney King Uprising
The Rodney King Trial and subsequent riots—as alluded to before—were in fact weaved throughout the entire movie and ended up being somewhat of a backdrop for the events that were unfolding in the individual lives of the members of N.W.A.
What I particularly liked about this creative decision was the fact that the assembly and disassembly of the super rap group was literally juxtaposed with the initial beating of Rodney King, the gross and unjust acquittal of the cops who carried out the heinous act, and the uprising that happened as result afterwards. My favorite part of this juxtaposition is the way in which Gray unabashedly invokes symbols and markings of the civil rights movement of today during the uprising scene.
In this particular scene, we follow Dre (and later Ice Cube) as he cruises down the street in his 64 the street during the aftermath of the trial. While this is happening, he stares out into the street at people protesting, flipping police cars, looting, yelling, and the works.
He stares at the stores and the walls that border these streets and on these walls are familiar cries like “No Justice, No Peace” and “Justice Now”. Familiar shots of police in riot gear fill the screen. And just like the opening sequence was capped off with a particularly attention-demanding and attention-grabbing moment, Gray chooses to cap this one off with a slow tracking shot that follows a Blood and a Crip as they approach a line of police officers.
The Crip and the Blood are joined by their bandanas—which are tied together (paying homage to the history-making gang truce of 1992).
And in particularly momentous fashion, Gary zooms in on their joined bandannas, cops staring them down and fire burning in the background.
And then he cuts to black.
And it is gloriously and respectfully done.
The movie drew a lot of its themes from these two moments, but one big theme that was addressed earlier in the movie is the idea of music as revolution.
Granted, I’m sure you assumed this movie would have great music—as did I—because of its subject matter, N.W.A. However, in addition to great music, the film also did a great job of conveying the impact that the group had on the world around them—positive and not-so-positive.
Without spoiling too much, this impact was mostly addressed in a press conference during the movie where Ice Cube tells a pretentious and presumptive reporter that their “degenerate “music is a reflection of their lives and their “reality”. Eazy-E follows this up in his “passport” line up by adding a particularly jab that calls out the emergence of The War on Drugs for the role it played in bringing crack cocaine and guns into Black and Brown communities.
Now for what everyone has been talking about: the misogynoir.
It’s odd, really. In general, the misogynoir was what held back my initial high rating of the film. AT THE SAME TIME, I would have been highly peeved had they went the opposite route and pretended sh*t didn’t happen and that misogynoir wasn’t a thing.
But still, I had qualms with the film. And my qualms went beyond that “Bye Felicia” scene. My qualms went even beyond the GLARING omission of Dre’s domestic violence history and even Ice Cube’s recent and asinine comments.
My qualms were specifically with the anemic roles that Straight Outta Compton had to offer women.
To put it bluntly, if you weren’t a mom, a baby momma, a bae, or a wife in this movie, you weren’t sh*t (at worst) or you were a faceless ass shaking (at best). And even if you did fall into one of the four categories I just mentioned, it wasn’t guaranteed that you’d have more than four or five lines.
I can hear MRAs and Hoteps jumping on my case already, talmbout:
“THIS IS N.W.A’S STORY. THEY’RE WEREN’T ANY WOMEN IN THE GROUP. GOD, LEX. SHUT UP.”
And to those people, I’d say: “No, you shut the f*ck up” and then I’d point out that part of N.W.A’s story includes their various exploits, business or otherwise. You know what was included in such business exploits? If you guessed the development of Ruthless Records (spawned by Eazy-E) and Da Lench Mob (spawned by Ice Cube), then you’d be correct.
And guess what game-changing FEMALE hip hop artists and protegés were part of those two groups? You don’t even have to guess, I’ll tell you:
The omission of all of these instrumental women was and still is aggravating to me, but the omission of J.J.Fad definitely succeeded in making my eye twitch, seeing as they were the first female hip-hop/rap group to earn a f*cking grammy. In the very least, they could have gotten a glorified cameo like Snoop Dog or Tupac. But nah, they were brushed to the wayside. No cameo. Not even a mention.
And that’s pretty sh*tty. Like “I’m going to go out of my way to be sh*tty” sh*tty.
Like “The Bad”, there were a couple of “Ehs” in this movie that made me scratch my head as it went on.
Whereas Yella and his musical efforts were reduced to the role of comic relief, MC Ren got the worst of this thin characterization. Super fans of N.W.A know that Ren’s efforts went beyond spitting lyrics in the studio in reply to Ice Cube’s exit (a scene intercut with that of Ice Cube releasing his own diss track in reply to the remaining members of N.W.A).
In fact, Ren was largely response for penning the lyrics to Eazy-E’s solo effort, Eazy-Duz-It. He also went on to become the only guest rapper on the album. If I had more time, I might go into greater detail, but by what I’ve outlined so far, it’s pretty clear that Ren’s contribution to the group was greater than what the movie displayed, but I digress.
Moving on, the second thing that rubbed me the wrong way about this movie was the sanitization of Dr. Dre. Granted, I’ve already addressed this to a certain degree in “The Bad” section where his history of domestic violence is concerned, but what particularly bugged me about his portrayal in the movie is that he didn’t seemingly have any particularly flaw or negative quirk. He was portrayed as the movie’s premier Good Guy™.
Sure, at the start of the movie, we see that he shirked some of his responsibilities, but then that shirking is justified by his immense musical/musical mixing talent.
He was, quite frankly, flawless, and it was kind of weird since the other two co-protagonists were far from being so. While Eazy-E had to deal with a HUGE hubris that threatened to get him killed on multiple occasions and Ice Cube had to cope with having an explosive temper that most certainly was frowned on his line of work, Good Guy Dre™ got no flaw to work with. And that sucks because it took away from his character somewhat and made him less dynamic than he ought to be.
Strangely enough, however, I might not have noticed if Suge Knight was not present. But since he was, Good Guy Dre™ stood out even more.
To elaborate, Suge Knight was evil incarnate in the film (and in real life to be honest and Knight’s actor, R. Marcus Taylor, does an incredibly excellent job of getting that evil across) and said evil only became more apparent when Dre teamed up with him after exiting Ruthless Records. On top of beating a man over a parking spot and threatening another (shirtless) man with a Pitbull, Suge Knight did it all and then some and Dre could only watch in horror until he decided that enough was enough and left for his own “peace of mind” at the conclusion of the film.
While that was, in fact, a great way to end the film, it might have been stronger had Dre not been portrayed as cleanly as he was.
And finally, my last “eh” when it comes to the film was its pacing and it mostly had to do with juxtaposing the life and times of N.W.A with historical events like I mentioned earlier. While I support the decision to do so, I wouldn’t be a real critic (read: asshole) if I didn’t comment on the haphazard way it was done. Cutting straight to the point, it felt clunky. And that’s because the film started out as a story of these ordinary people who were presented with an extraordinary opportunity to change their circumstances and then the story/plot of the movie outgrew them in a way, especially when placed next to such big historical events. It wasn’t a HUGE issue, but still.
In essence, I was expecting a good ass movie with good ass music that DIDN’T include the standard Whitebread protagonist climbing some mountain (seriously, what WAS it with mountain climbing movies this year???) or Whitewashing history (re: Stonewall) and I ended up getting much more than that.
Instead, I was served 150 minutes of a classic on a platter. Straight Outta Compton made me laugh, cry, and feel—very deeply. What’s more is that it unapologetically served as a timely salute to the racial/political/socioeconomic landscape of today and yesteryear.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
If you haven’t seen Straight Outta Compton yet, you’re losing. Simple as that.
Images From: Giphy.com, Memecrunch.com, Twitter, Entertainment Weekly, Tumblr, Weheartit.com, Universal Pictures, Theepochtimes.com