Seasoned with sharp performances from up-and-coming actors, there's not a dull moment in the two-hour plus running time of “Straight Outta Compton.”
Filled with a little humor, hard truth and vivacity, it exudes a raw and infectious energy that seems to radiate from several places at once -- from the stars, the story, and, most tellingly, from the music.
L to R - MC Ren (ALDIS HODGE), DJ Yella (NEIL BROWN, JR.), Dr. Dre (COREY HAWKINS), Eazy-E (JASON MITCHELL) and Ice Cube (O'SHEA JACKSON, JR.) - Photo Courtesy Jaimie Trueblood
A film, which follows the meteoric rise of the group N.W.A. who in the mid-1980s revolutionized Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood, the powerful opening sequence kicks off in Compton, Calif. in 1986. A drug-dealing Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) is unsuccessfully trying to collect cash from his supplier. Things seem likely to get ugly as words are exchanged and guns are pulled out, but Eazy-E manages to flee just as a SWAT team raid unfolds. The following scenes then introduces audiences to his fellow cohorts; Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), a skilled deejay with big dreams and empty pockets and lyricist O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (played by producer Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson, Jr.). This all sets the scene for their eventual collaboration and after a series of scenes showing them getting pushed around by the police in their poverty stricken Compton neighborhood, the trio, who are tired of dead ends and hungry for change decide to form a group called N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitudes). Eazy-E fronts the cash, Ice Cube pens the lyrics and the beats are put together by Dr. Dre. His counterpart DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) are also invited to join the group.
The film then follows the group’s swift rise as they are quickly signed by manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who gets them a major label contract. Things are initially great as the group tour nationwide enjoying the perks of stardom, but after a contract dispute, Cube and Dre eventually split from the group to pursue successful solo careers. The film’s final act then focuses on Eazy-E’s brief battle with AIDS, their attempt at reconciliation and his eventual death.
L to R - Eazy-E (JASON MITCHELL), Jerry Heller (PAUL GIAMATTI)
What makes the film so affecting is the no-nonsense direction of F. Gary Gray, whose feature credits cross genres from actioners like “The Italian Job (’03)” and dramatic thrillers such as “The Negotiator (’98).” Gray understands the story's theme, and captures the gritty feel of their world without ever falling into exploitation. In this, he is lent excellent support from a fine cast of newcomers, all eerie clones of the characters they portray, from Marlon Yates Jr., who plays The D.O.C., to R. Marcus Taylor as Suge Knight. Even fans of Eazy-E will find a thrill in watching actor Jason Mitchell bring him back to life.
The film covers many important events and songs and sparkles during its concert scenes. With moments of greatness, there’s plenty here to attract more than just N.W.A.’s core fan-base. Audiences eager to know about the birth of West Coast rap and how Dr. Dre and Ice Cube rose from the rough-and-tumble streets of Compton to sleek million-dollar homes in Los Angeles’ wealthiest enclaves will find it here.
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