Oscar nominated Hollywood biopic Straight Outta Compton chronicles the lives of Hip Hop Artists N.W.A. and their powerful, revolutionary rise to stardom.
1980s California. Five young rappers from the disadvantaged streets of Compton wrestle with gang culture and racial unrest. Banding together they form a group unafraid to express the hard truth, and with singles such as F**k Tha Police, are soon branded by the authorities as “The World’s Most Dangerous Group.” We follow the legendary Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Cory Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) as they form the group, weather the political backlash and race towards their inevitable stormy break up, all whilst revolutionizing the face of rap music.
Director F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen, The Negotiator) and nominated screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff manage to compress ten years of history between five men into a two hour film that is surprisingly accurate. Though embellished with typical Hollywood dramatic licence, most scenes feel authentic to events as described by N.W.A.’s surviving members. With Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods Wright on board as producers, and MC Ren and DJ Yella as consultants on the film, you wouldn’t expect anything less. In a particularly powerful scene, the group are subject to police harassment simply because they ‘look like gang members.’ This is all the more shocking as we realise the truth of the event.
The group’s antics, along with appearances from heavyweights like Tupac and Snoop Dogg, will delight fans throughout. Fittingly, the soundtrack is much more than background noise; it’s the beating heart of the entire script. Witnessing the origins of iconic hits like Straight Outta Compton, Boyz-n-the-Hood and, naturally, F**k Tha Police, and seeing them performed for the first time, audiences are completely transported, as if they attended the gig themselves. But the story remains engaging and entertaining enough for even those unfamiliar with rap history. Though centred around hip hop culture, the prevalent themes of racial hatred and social discourse could not be more timely, and will reverberate to any and every minority group in the world. Not only is it a compelling ‘rags to riches’ story; it is an important one of trust and friendship.
With so many larger than life characters, it is difficult to always strike the right balance, and unfortunately not all of the performances are on point. Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E is at once too caricatured and lacking in screen presence. The complex relationship between him and manager Jerry (Paul Giamatti) feels confused and underdeveloped, while elsewhere core crew members MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) linger in the background, making it unclear exactly what role they played. But Cory Hawkins as Dr. Dre provides a wonderfully subtle performance to create a truly nuanced character, and as his own father Ice Cube, O’Shea Jackson Jr. starts shakily but grows into the role as the film progresses, particularly shining in moments of rage.
With their brutally honest lyrics and hardcore beats enriching the world these characters live in, we are transported back in time to the origins of these hip hop masters. You don’t need to be a fan; it will inspire anyone to follow their dreams and stand up for what they believe in.
Straight Outta Compton is Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay and is available on Blu Ray and DVD now.