Straight Outta Compton

★★★½
In the words of N.W.A. themselves, “Damn that s%#t was dope!”
Movie Review #1,006

straight_outta_compton_ver8

Universal Pictures
Biography, Drama, Music
Theatrical cut: 2 hours, 27 minutes
Unrated director’s cut: 2 hours, 47 minutes
Theatrical cut: Rated R (language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use)
Unrated director’s cut: Unrated
Theatrical cut: Released August 14, 2015
Unrated director’s cut: Released January 5, 2016
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Story by S. leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff
Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Alexandra Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Joshua Brockington, Sheldon A. Smith, and Keith Stanfield

One thing I absolutely love about film is that when it’s truly art, it reflects society’s mentality. “Straight Outta Compton” does that. It may chronicle a true story from the late ’80s through the early ’90s, but it’s mainly about today, in that it reflects the thought of 2015 America. You can’t deny it: racism exists, and so do racial oppression and the abuse of power. They’re unfortunately very prominent concerns today. “Straight Outta Compton” speaks to those issues more powerfully than any film since “Fruitvale Station”. You gotta give it to Hollywood here: they’ve finally matched one of the best independent films of recent on an emotional level.

“Straight Outta Compton” is just as dynamic, but its focus is a lot more empowering. I’m not just talking about the stand it takes against racism. The movie also deals with the art vs. marketing debate, and hits just as hard in this facet. As far as I’m concerned, N.W.A. were essentially the avant-garde pioneers of a genre that grew into something mainstream. We don’t necessarily have gangsta rap music anymore, but I doubt we’d have rap music without this group. If we did, it wouldn’t be nearly the same. I was sure of this going in, but “Straight Outta Compton” was as definite a reminder as their record of the same name.

At 147 minutes, it does run a bit long, with a midsection that feels a bit dry. But at the same time, every moment is worth it. We see the creative turmoil that accounts for the rise and fall of N.W.A., and it’s wildly engrossing. The ability–or lack thereof–for the group to function as one creative mind is what brings them together, breaks them apart, and brings them back together once more. Admittedly, that rise-fall-rise pattern is a huge cliché in the biopic genre, but when it comes to the smaller rises and falls, you won’t be able to tell the difference. Director F. Gary Gray blurs the lines marvelously, letting the movie play largely by its own structure.

“Straight Outta Compton” is an early Oscar contender. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography captures everything here as something in between vivid and visceral. If you’ve seen his work with Darren Aronofsky on “Requiem for a Dream” or “Black Swan”, then you have a good idea of how much he adds to “Compton”. The music, of course, speaks for itself. Except, maybe, Dr. Dre’s “Talking to My Diary”, off his most recent album Compton. It plays over the second half of the credits and it’s, well, bangin’. Match sight and sound with editing, and you’ve got the best display I’ve ever seen during an end credits sequence–plus a hell of a lot more before that final mark hits. Let’s not forget the cast. Perhaps the performances here are the best thing about the film. This is Paul Giamatti’s second time this year in a musical biopic (the first being “Love & Mercy”), but even his stellar delivery fails to match the command of the five leads. Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube), Aldis Hodge (MC Ren), and Neil Brown, Jr. (DJ Yella). They’re all currently unknowns, but I’m convinced that’ll change soon enough. Forget that O’Shea’s in the role of his own father–they all disappear into the roles of these musicians.

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