Why "Straight Outta Compton" is a Powerful Biopic (Review)

“Straight Outta Compton” is worthy to be mentioned in awards talk this year. Clocking in at 147 minutes, the bio-drama will keep you riveted in your seat without glancing at your watch. While the film takes certain liberties with history, there is no doubt that N.W.A took a stand, transformed music, and made an impact on a generation that can still be felt today.

From 1986-91 the group N.W.A made a mark in hip hop music that crossed boundaries and changed the landscape of American music, and some may argue the world. One of the earliest groups to popularize gangsta rap, N.W.A consisted of Ice Cube (O’shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). Formed at a time when police brutality and harassment in black communities was turning up, the group’s message was forged out of that oppression and living in the tough Compton neighborhood, which gave them a spirit and drive to have their voices heard.

The film covers the group over a ten year period. It focuses mainly on Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre’s journey during that time. As the three most notorious members of the group, we’re able to see their home lives and stage life, and how they all mixed together. Each of the three get just the right amount of time to shine, while pushing the story forward. Fans will definitely enjoy seeing other famous performers like Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose) portrayed and sprinkled in throughout the film.

The movie’s power is found on numerous levels. Writers Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff do a great job of harnessing the intrinsic drama of the rise and fall of N.W.A. They started out as teens with a dream, and accomplished it! Yet, with the success came egos and issues surrounding money which led to the group splitting up. Another issue that the film deals with is violence against the black community from police officers. Unfortunately, almost 25 years after Rodney King, young black men are still a target of not just police batons but unwarranted bullets on what feels like a monthly occurrence in the news. So the energy that stems from perhaps their largest record, “F**k the Police”, sadly still resonates today.

The film paints a picture of N.W.A as fighters for free speech and self expression. While they spoke explicitly about their environment and the movie covers the media, FBI, and certain groups of people trying to suppress their message, it excludes the misogyny in their music. This was a large part of the protest in real life, but is conveniently left out in the motion picture. So the group looks more like oppressed freedom fighters, which works for Hollywood but some may take issue to.

Regardless of slight alterations or omissions, director F. Gary Gray captures and paints a masterpiece in this biopic. His camera frames the glamour of the come up, their wild lifestyle during the height of their success, and the ugliness of oppression. The pacing of the film is warranted even under the lengthy running time. The performances of these young actors are excellent. Entertaining, funny, and solemn at times, “Straight Outta Compton” is the perfect combination and a must see!

Rating: A 

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.