Straight Outta Compton (2015) – Film Review

The better of the weekend’s musical offerings


Straight Outta Compton is a musical biopic telling the story of N.W.A.,  the hip-hip group that came out of Los Angeles in the 1980’s and made household names of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.  The movie is directed by F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen (2009)) includes among its cast O’Shea Jackson Jnr playing the part of his father Ice Cube.  The film shows the individuals meeting up and pressing their first records (no CDs here kids), teaming up with manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), the early concerts, the internal strife and the patching up of old differences.  As such the story is history repeating itself as it has for many groups but N.W.A. is an important group on two grounds; they raised awareness about life in black neighbour-hoods and set the scene for hip-hop/urban music being a dominant force in the music business today.

I’m not renowned as an historian of hip-hop music but as it turned out I knew a little more than I thought I did having watched this film.  My main takeaway from this film was that it felt that there were at least two movies that could have been made about this period in the history of music.  I was left with the unmistakable feeling that the filmmakers had been left overwhelmed by the volume of material they had to work with and ending up taking a little from here, then a little from there and we have to get the appearance of Tupac and Snoop Dogg in the frame somehow.  I would have loved to have seen more of Dr. Dre’s relationship with his mother but sadly she disappears after the first act.  I had the feeling she stopped him from getting into two much trouble and first put the idea into his head that whatever he did he should be the one running the company.  As a result the film doesn’t flow freely once we get out of the first act and it feels like chunks of the story are missing.  The movie is also missing the sense of N.W.A. as a cultural phenomenon and their impact on the wider world.

It’s starting to sound like I have a bit of a downer on this movie which isn’t strictly true.  I enjoyed it and it was fun to listen to some of the songs on the sound track and think ‘hey I recognise that!’  Straight Outta Compton shows the close ties between gang culture and the music industry at the time (and who knows maybe now?) and the dangerous mix this was.  Individuals like Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) with a history of violence were finding a new outlet to use their talents to make it to the top.  It is also clear that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube learned some hard business lessons during their time with N.W.A. that led to their success as millionaires/billionaires today.

I suspect this film fell foul of the fact that the artists are the heart of the story where also the producers of the film which may have coloured some of the story telling.  I’d love to see a documentary series on TV really digging into the history of N.W.A. focusing on video from the time.  My rating 3/5.


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