No Detox, but hey, at least we get a musical biopic!
Growing up as just a bunch of young bucks in Compton, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), all wanted to make a difference as the hip-hop group N.W.A. Sure, they wanted to rap, make money, party hard, and have a great time, but what they really wanted from life, was to have their voices be heard and, in some ways, maybe even change the world. Well, when music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) gets ahold of them, that begins to happen. With the release of their seminal album, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. became one of the most notorious and controversial groups; most of it had to do with the fact that they’re songs were great, but also because they were so racy, that they attracted plenty of attention from law enforcement who didn’t appreciate their songs about police brutality and violence. But even though they were on top of the world and absolutely loving it, too, personal problems began to come into the fray where certain members weren’t getting as much money as they were promised, respect, or wanted to do something else with their careers.
Basically, what happens to every band ever formed.
Everything about Straight Outta Compton is as generic as you can get with a musical biopic. The rusted, ragged roots; the first taste of fame; the money; the expensive cars; the lavish mansions; the wildly kick-ass bangers; the tension between members; the idea of “selling out; the break-up; and of course, the eventual reconciliation are all fine points of the musical biopic that are covered here and even then some. In other words, Straight Outta Compton is nothing more than a dramatization of a Behind the Music episode and while that sounds terrible, director F. Gary Gray surprisingly keeps it away from being so.
I say “surprisingly” not because it’s hard to make a musical biopic enjoyable; in all honesty, all you really need is good music, good acting, and a good pace, and everything’s all fine and dandy despite the conventionality of it all. But the reason I say “surprisingly” is because having seen Gray’s past movies, I’m surprised to see that he didn’t lose any sort of conviction with this story and how it handles each and every bit of it. While it would have been easy to just end Straight Outta Compton as soon as N.W.A. breaks up and fill-in the blanks with post-script (as most musical biopics do), Gray takes it one step further and focuses on what happened to each and every member after the break-up. It’s a wise choice on Gray’s part because half of the story of N.W.A. is how they went from being the best of friends, to openly dissing and ripping one another apart in harsh, but legendary diss-tracks, that nobody in their right minds would ever forgive somebody over.
And this is all to say that the movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long and honestly, it does not need to be.
Though, the interesting aspect behind the long-winding run-time is even though it’s clearly long and definitely needs to be trimmed-down, the movie moves so quickly and enjoyably, that it’s hardly noticeable. There were plenty of moments in the later-half of the movie where I felt like they could have definitely wrapped things up more efficiently than they did, but all in all, the movie never had me checking my watch. Gray keeps the story moving and constantly interesting, even if it does seem to cover the same ground and get a little phony after awhile.
But like I said, it’s a musical biopic that went through all of the same hoops and holes that most others do, and still, it felt fresh, if only because it was actually fun. Even when the hearts and emotions get heavy by the end, the movie still never loses its sense of entertainment; which is to say that it’s a treat for anyone who has been clamoring for this story to be brought to the big screen. There are the occasional flip-ups where its obvious that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube had some influence over which light a certain occurrence was shown in, but overall, it seems to paint a full picture that makes you feel like you know why this group was so important to the world of music, why they didn’t last, and why their own respective members deserved to be praised until the end of time.
Hell, it’s even better than some documentaries I’ve seen.
And while I’m sort of on the subject of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube producing this, it should be noted that they did a nice job of getting a good cast in these roles, even if none of them really have to stretch themselves too hard. Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., is an absolute spitting-image of his daddy that you may have to wipe your eyes every so often to remind yourself that it isn’t actually Ice Cube up there on the screen, but his living, breathing, walking, talking and rapping sperm. Corey Hawkins is also a good fit as Dre, not because he looks a little like him (even with a slight hint of Asian), but because he handles the material well when we see the “true” Dre come out. And then, as Eazy-E, the heart and soul of the group, Jason Mitchell is very good and perhaps the most impressive of the young fellas, showing a huge level of depth to a person who would sometimes be classified as a “goof-ball” and all around “lady’s man”.
But whenever these guys are up on the screen next to Paul Giamatti, there’s almost no comparison. Clearly, Giamatti’s the most skilled actor out of everyone here and he shows that off, each and every scene he gets, because he’s constantly evolving into a human being you don’t want to believe exists, but sadly does. All problems with Jerry Heller aside, the movie paints him in a portrait that’s fair; Heller himself has even on occasion spoke of how he’s “just a man for money”, but the movie never makes him out to be sniveling, evil person that most of these movies like to paint the manager as being. He’s just another guy in California trying to make a quick and easy buck, no matter at what costs; sometimes, he’s nice about it, sometimes, he’s not. But he’s a businessman through and through, and Giamatti plays every side of that perfectly.
But poor Suge Knight! What did that guy ever do!
Consensus: Conventional and overlong, Straight Outta Compton feels like it could fall apart at the seams, but somehow, director F. Gary Gray keeps it all together in an entertaining way that makes it feel like the story of N.W.A. is, once and for all, complete.
7 / 10