Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Imagine you are a teenager in 1988.  You are driving through the streets of your suburban home.  For some reason or another you end up going to your local record store to browse through to see if you can find a copy of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, when all of a sudden this blasts over the loudspeaker of the record store:

“What the hell was that?” You wonder.  Who are these funny sounding guys talking about M-Fers, N-Ers, and a whole bunch of other stuff?  Michael Jackson sure as hell wouldn’t use word or beats like that.  But this isn’t the King of Pop.  This is the most dangerous group in the world, N.W.A. known formally as Niggaz Wit Attitude and they were about to ignite a revolution in rap/pop culture/and hip hop.  As a fellow DJ of mine Danny Spencer once said, “Before N.WA., Hip Hop was about holding hands and sweet love songs, after N.W.A. it was about Sawed Off Shotguns and sliding credit cards down a lady’s butt.”

Knowing the revolutionary tendencies of N.W.A., you think this film directed by F. Gary Gray would be a bit more involving, instead what it feels like is the more sanitized story of N.W.A. as approved by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and their wives respectfully.  Instead of embracing the crazy, they try tone it down and thereby losing the effectiveness of N.W.A. and their music.

The story details the rise and fall of N.W.A. as told through the eyes of its main members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube (played by his son O’Shea Jackson, Jr. aka Ice Cube, Jr.) and the late great Eazy-E.  It chronicles as it deals with racism by the Police, criticism against White America, and being taking advantage of by their manager Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti).  Ultimately what stands out is a standard biopic that really only presents the story that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube want told, and not necessary the whole story.

One of the main criticisms I had with this movie was that it is told exclusively from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s point of view.  While Eazy-E is certainly a major player, he is often portrayed as being kind of dimwitted and misguided in his attempts at creating and forming the band.  This is probably due to the fact that in real-life, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube’s relationship with Eazy-E was not very good until he ended up dying of AIDS.

The problem with “Straight Outta Compton” is that the movie tries to show how “good” each of these people are instead of the whole picture.  For example, little mentioned of their troubles with the law unless its them trying to literally “Fuck with the police.”  While this is an effective use of parlaying the N.W.A. story into a wider narrative today about the nature of Police Brutality, it would have been to show the moral lessons that the group members learned about how the Gang lifestyle was not feasible, as well as glossing over some of their legal problems as well.

Ultimately, this is a movie that really should have benefited from a well balanced story instead of a straight-up “official biopic.”

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.

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