Straight Outta Compton – Review

“STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON”

Now I’m not really a rap fan I’m much more of a heavy metal person, in fact I saw this film the day after I came back from a heavy metal music festival in Germany. My current taste in rap is purely ‘epic rap battles of history’, but I do have a soft spot for the late 80’s rap, I just think there is a sense of authenticity there that I think has been sorely missed from that genre and this film, directed by F Gary Gray was going to document one of the most influential music groups to come out of that period NWA. Everyone who knows me will know that this is not really the film for me, but I was won over by this film’s trailer and definitely wanted to review it, in fact the only reason this film review is rather belated from its initial release is purely because it was pushed back on its release at the last minute, I was meant to be reviewing it in the week I reviewed Pixels. Nevertheless I’m here to see the final product which I believe could potentially have some Oscar buzz.

Straight Outta Compton’s plot documents the true life story of Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr), Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) and Easy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) who use rap music to escape from their home town of Compton by forming Rampage Records with DJ Yella (played by Neil Brown Jr) and MC Ren (played by Aldis Hodge). However, their career is not smooth sailing as they are constantly being threatened by the police, federal government, gang members and are constantly dealing with the dodgy dealings of the record company and their manager Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti). I really don’t want to give away much more of the plot than this as this is really a film that you should just go in and experience and like a good bio pic you can enjoy this film without knowing too much about the rappers. There has been some controversy with the film white washing several parts of the bands history and yes, if you know anything about this band’s history you will be aware of a few things being white washed from this film. That being said, however, much like Captain Phillips and Saving Mr Banks, what has been left out does not equate to this film being bad or not entertaining, far from it! It also doesn’t mean that the band haven’t aired some of their dirty laundry, the band members don’t come out looking great by the end of this movie, but I’m not surprised some things have been left out, considering several of the band members are credited producers of this film.

This film has a 2 hours 30 minute running time which may seem daunting to most people, but unlike many films that last 2 hours 30 minutes, particularly the films that tend to be contenders for best picture at the Oscars something I’d like to see the Oscars move away from, Straight Outta Compton knows how to use its time effectively. The first 30 minutes of the film are really dedicated to giving you a sense of the environment of the rappers involved to give us an idea of the influence of their sound, including gang violence, copious amounts of drug culture and the horrific amount of abuse performed by the systemic amount of racism in the LAPD (to which there have been protests from the LAPD in regard to their depiction). The film doesn’t stick there too long and later moves in to the band’s success especially with the success of their debut album which the film is named after. It does show how excess can get to people and seriously affect them, particularly in the latter portion of the film, but despite the trailers, the film does not largely focus on the excess except for the middle portions of the film, it more shows that the group are being very serious about their music, again, not surprising considering several of the band members are credited producers. It also doesn’t help that the group are surrounded by people that aren’t that good for them. Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller starts out seeming like he is out for the group but then you slowly begin to question what his motives are as the film goes on, I don’t actually know how close this is to how it played out in reality, but I’m taking it for what it’s worth. Dr Dre doesn’t help himself out by surrounding himself with dubious gangster Suge Knight played by R Marcos Taylor who starts out with his dubious bodyguard business but then later breaks off with Dr Dre to form Deathrow records and not to mention the record owner label who screws Ice Cube out of his money. It definitely shows an ugly side to the music industry both on the excess level and behind the scenes of how the companies themselves work. This probably would have been more surprising in the 80’s when there was less known about this, but now it’s a fairly well known fact that most record companies are basically run by ‘blood sucking vampires’! This film could have made a major mistake of focusing on purely one of the rappers and leaving the others to one side, which the trailers suggested it was going to do for Ice Cube, however Dr Dre and Eazy-E both get a ton of time devoted to them and the film balances the three of them perfectly, thus making the film a really strong ensemble piece. The film expertly knows when to focus on which rapper and how long to do it, we are never left with one person too long or too little.

The film also used its time brilliantly to show tons of messages, for example, it also suggests the idea it’s not always necessary to believe the press hype around the music, again, the people are shown to pre judge NWA despite the fact they are not aware of their surroundings and this is reflected on when Ice Cube says at a press conference when someone questions whether his lyrics are glorified gang culture, he replies that ‘their art is a reflection of their surroundings’. This is particularly reflected when the band is harassed outside their own recording studio by the Police and after the fact, record the song ‘F@£$ the police’. Yes, if there is anyone who comes out looking really bad in this, it’s the American Cops, which given the current climate on gun control in America at the time of this review going out, is not brilliant timing. There is also a brilliant line later on in the film where Ice Cube says ‘speak a little truth and people lose their minds’, which also perfectly reflects one of the messages of the film. The film also suggests the idea that people aren’t defined by the area they come from. Yes, they do indulge themselves in lots of rubbish, but, Dr Dre, later when he gets fed up of everything says ‘we could have done this s@£$ in Compton, we’re not there anymore’ suggesting that these guys didn’t want to stay stuck in that mind set. I would also suggest to people that are dismissing this film before they see it, which ironically is a large portion of the film’s message, this film is surprisingly emotional when it needs to be, especially around some characters dying and you really are upset when this group can’t work out their differences. Again, this won’t be too much of a surprise to anyone who is familiar with NWA’s history. As a whole it had a really, really brilliant ending and you come out feeling for these people who you have seen put their heart and soul completely into their music only to have it tainted. As I said, I don’t want to give away too much of this film because I think it’s best to just go in and experience it, but as the plot goes, I didn’t expect it to go into the regions that it did, as it doesn’t just document NWA’s career, but also documents the solo careers and various record labels founded by the individual members of the band. I would genuinely advise people not to look into NWA’s history before seeing this film, especially considering the film perfectly conveys that when this band were at their height they were considered the most dangerous group in America. Granted there has always been a band or a singer labelled as the most dangerous things to our youth since insert topical band from 10 years ago But it really conveys it well, particularly when they have the scene of the live show in Detroit where the band was famously arrested for going against the orders of the Detroit City Police and performed the song ‘F@£$ the police’. The plot does have a few issues, it tends to meander along at times and the film also tends to repeat itself quite a bit and I would be lying if I didn’t find the film slightly misogynistic towards its female cast (though I feel this was done to keep accordance with the true life story), but overall I really enjoyed this plot and I was able to really overlook those flaws completely. Almost completely!

Now I mentioned this film is an ensemble piece and it has an excellent cast to it. O’Shea Jackson Jr aka Ice Cube’s son is playing his dad in the film and he is excellent at it, he is the absolute spit of his dad and the make-up effects to visibly age/de-age him throughout the film were excellent. Likewise Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are also spitting images of Dr Dre and Eazy-E. All three turn in absolutely fantastic performances, I wouldn’t be surprised if they received Oscar or BAFTA nominations next year. Although I think, rather like Foxcatcher, it will be very difficult to tell which one of them should be nominated for the lead actor role and which two should receive the supporting actor nomination. They also have particularly heavy material to work with and if anyone was going to doubt them before the film, they will be very much mistaken. These guys are absolutely fantastic in their roles and they are very believable, particularly in the live shows and the recording sessions. You really feel that you are actually watching a documentary about NWA rather than a movie. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast aren’t good. There are some particularly great supporting roles. I absolutely love the performance of R Marcos Taylor playing the gangster who helps form Deathrow records with Dr Dre, he delivers an excellent sinister performance. Paul Giarnatti manages to play several roles, like a music manager would and he plays them all brilliantly, plus the make-up effects on him are excellent, but I will go more into that later, but again they managed to age him perfectly to make him look like the real Jerry Heller. The film also has excellent cameos from actors playing various other actors, like 2Pac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. Other great supporting roles involved are Elena Goode who played an absolute blinder in this role and Neil Brown Jr and Aldis Hodge as both DJ Yelland MC Ren. What’s great about the actors playing the rappers is that they can perform the music very well and have an authenticity to it, you don’t feel like you are watching a tribute band that are trying too hard, you feel like you are watching a group that has actually written those songs and believes in them. It’s that authenticity that really lends the film its biggest strength. I’m certain someone could find a performance that they would classify as being bad if they really looked into this film, but I wasn’t seeing it. This was an excellent cast and I really really enjoyed being with them every step of the way.

With this movie, Straight Outta Compton, the biggest thing to ask about the presentation was, ‘did they get the songs down well?’ I’m glad to say, Yes they did. I’m not sure if these are re-recording by the actors or if they are re-mastered versions of the songs, but they really work well and the actors pull off the scenes of the music performances really excellently, this is particularly shown well in the recording studio sessions which are made to look like music video’s or the live sessions which really do feel like a live show is going on, again particularly in the scenes for the live concert in Detroit. There are tons of songs by the original artists featured in each of these including ‘Boyz in the Hood’ and as I mentioned ‘F@£$ the Police’. Surprisingly the one song which doesn’t get as much of a mention that I thought it would, is the song the film’s named after, in fact you only get brief glimpses of it during the recording of the debut album and during the end credits. By the way, don’t leave the end credits too soon, like many people did at my screening, there’s actually some really good stock footage of the bands history that is played with the song, so it’s really worth staying around until the song is done, then you can leave with everyone else. The songs are still well produced and I would say on technical levels, whether you like rap music or not, that’s a factor you can’t deny. I mentioned about the make-up effects and the use of stock footage previously in this review, which are both very good and this mainly serves to deliver what most period pieces strive for but often fail to achieve, authenticity!! You really feel like this is the late 80’s early 90’s and that’s down to more than just the stock footage. There’s a real feel of authenticity, especially with references to situations like the terrible events of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent LA riots, both of which Ice Cube was very vocal about. This feels like a film that a lot of time, love and care was put into to make sure it would give a sense of nostalgia to people who were around then and it really pays off. As I mentioned the actors were really made to look like the rappers they were meant to represent. Also the cinematography is excellent in this film. This film, at times feels like it’s a massive music video and on a lot of levels it is an excellently well shot movie. The film looks like it was directed brilliantly. F Gary Gray really should could potentially be up for best director at the next Oscars for this film.

I’m certain there are some negatives to Straight Outta Compton, but I am really struggling to find them, it’s a really very good movie. The story makes for a fantastic ensemble piece. Even if like me, you are not really into rap music, you will go along with these people. I would urge anyone who enjoys listening to music in any sort of capacity to go along and see the film. Its cast is brilliant and its production values are excellent and really add to the authenticity of the film and its time period. I wouldn’t call this a perfect film, but I saw this on the same day that I saw Hitman Agent 47 and to come out of a film that poorly and lazily made, to come out and see this, I would call a massive breath of fresh air. I really would urge anyone even remotely curious to go and check this film out. Although it’s way too soon to comment on it, I wouldn’t actually mind seeing this film nominated for best film at the Oscars in 2016. This really has been one of the hi-lights of the films that I have seen this year and I think people will be very surprised by how emotional the plot really is and how much they get out of this true story.

So, what are your thoughts on Straight Outta Compton?? Did you, like me, really enjoy this or were there some negatives that I missed. Leave your thought on it below. Seeing as this was a film about rap music my question for this week is:

“What are your favourite epic rap battles of history?”

If you haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent music series on You Tube run by Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd where they take two significant people from history and fiction and have them compete in rap battles, I would really recommend people checking it out. My personal favourites are Steve Jobbs vs Bill Gates, The Rennaisence Painters vs The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Skrillex vs Mozart and Superman vs Goku but I will be really interested to see which ones you really enjoyed. There have also particularly the more recent ones, like Shakazulu vs Julius Cesear and Stan lee vs Jim Henson.

Well if you were disappointed that my last two reviews haven’t been ranting and raving about how much I dislike a film, then you are in luck as next week I am reviewing an M Night Shyamalan movie. I am about to go on holiday so the next review is coming out on Wednesday 16 Sep. I wanted to make sure that it got out before I leave to go on my holiday. Also word of warning there are going to be two questions next time, one in particular I would like some help on.

Next week I review “The Visit”

Word of warning, keep an eye on my Twitter feed, if things go a bit wrong, touch wood, I may be late in getting my review out. But my team are all brilliant and we haven’t missed a deadline yet, so I am incredibly doubtful that will happen.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed watching this movie.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia6th July 2022
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