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To properly assess this film, it is vital to point out that in order to give the NWA a fair bio-pic, it should be longer than 147 minutes, simply because of the important back stories and rivalries. The highly acclaimed film, and rap group, lived up to the expectations. For the most part, films that you hear are “supposed to be really good” turn out to be “pretty average,” however, Straight Outta Compton was gripping and intense throughout, leaving the audience quite satisfied – even with the highest of expectations.
The film, of course, centers around three individuals: Andre “Dr. Dre” Hawkins (Corey Hawkins), O’Shea “Ice-Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Eric “Easy E” Lynn Wright (Jason Mitchell) who come from a poor and discriminated against neighborhood in, you guessed it, Compton, California. The early parts of the film focuses around the way these soon-to-be superstars grew up: In close quartered, low income houses where multiple family members live. In addition, the police constantly harass the members of this area due to their income, and more importantly, their skin color. To escape their melancholy lives, like some of us do with movies (wink, wink), they play and create music, and – in some cases – sell cocaine.
All of that changes when the trio team up to create something the world has never seen before. Dr. Dre and Ice-Cube are already childhood friends who would produce tracks together, but with the addition of Easy E to market for them – and eventually provide vocals – the world becomes their oyster. Dre, who works at a club, would use the venue to his advantage and display his new songs for the dancing crowd. However, as cliche as it is, the owner of the club does not like his music, saying it is not sexy enough, setting the stage for them to prove him, and the whole world, that they are the next big thing.
Without consent from the club manager, the three make and produce their own album, which is highly acclaimed among their peers, but not the club manager. Then, as you would expect, the radio starts playing their album “Straight Outta Compton,” and a music agent, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), notices the level of talent they posses and wants to make them stars. Heller’s presence allows for a joke regarding what NWA might mean and it actually means.
As the group perform multiple concerts in front of sold out arenas they seemingly connect with their demographic more than any other artist, which causes immense controversy because the music they play promotes minorities to rise up against society and the police. That is especially evident when their number one hit is titled “Fuck the Police.”
The climax of the film occurs when the group is set to perform at the world renown “Joe Louis Arena” in Detroit, Michigan. Before the concert, the entire police department preps NWA with what they can and cannot sing about on the night in order for a peaceful assembly to remain – as opposed to a riot. The Detroit Police Department specifically mentions one song that must never be played – “‘F’ the Police,” as they refer to it. As you can imagine, because this event already happened in history, Ice-Cube does not appreciate being told what he can and cannot do, and plays it anyways, leading to a mass scale riot when the numerous officers in the crowd attempt to arrest the group. This particular scene is what puts this film into a league of its own. Throughout that fateful night, it did not appear as though the audience was watching a movie about a gangster rap group, but almost as if one was witnessing the final game in Any Given Sunday. The overall intense atmosphere enabled the viewer to feel the same juxtaposition as the audience in the “Joe Louis Arena.”
When NWA reach the peak they is only one direction they could go, downwards! And that’s exactly what happens. Ice-Cube realizes the shadiness from Jerry wanting the group to sign contracts without a lawyer, so he goes solo. The next NWA album promotes a song which compares him to Benedict Arnold, so he must retaliate. Then, Dr. Dre becomes aware that Cube was correct about all of it, and he leaves. Therefore, the group falls apart with each one of them trying to become even bigger on their own.
The remaining scenes become the rise of Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre, while Easy E – the only man who stayed with, and trusted Jerry – struggles and loses the money he made because of the bogus contract. It becomes more about the fall, and inevitable death of Easy E more than the reconciliation of NWA.
After their friend’s death, Dr. Dre and Ice-Cube put aside their childish ruffle, and once again focus on music. The final scene can only be summed up with calling it perfect. As Dre leaves “Deathrow Records” to pursue his own endeavor, for it was he who made stars; not the record label, Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), angrily asks him what Dre will call his new label. He turns around and responds “Aftermath.”
Overall, this film was a suitable bio-pic for, arguably, the most famous rap trio in history. As much as it was about NWA, the movie portrayed the basic elements of humanity: friendship, hope, inspiration, conflict, and resolution. The tropes that director F. Gary Gray used enabled the audience to connect with these superstars were nothing less than brilliant. Here I am, a middle class white kid from Massachusetts, and I can empathize with these geniuses. As can any demographic within the audience. Regarding acting, each portrayal was outstanding. If you sat and thought how remarkable it was that Gray found actors that look and sound so much like the people they are performing – well, they were easy to find. Each actor is the child of each respective rapper, which in it’s own way is awesome.
But the film leaves out many things, understandably so, due to the fact that Gray wants the audience to connect with the characters. Simply because they are superstar musicians does not mean they are great people. Dr. Dre’s altercation with Denise “Dee” Barnes, or Easy E’s infamous promiscuity which led him to his eventual HIV diagnosis and death are just a small sample size of the unfortunate early days of NWA. To audience members who do not know about the history of NWA the only indication that Easy-E was ill in the clichéd way of him couching in two scenes straights. If Gray adds all these lowly stories then it would prove difficult for a vast majority to connect with the characters, and, therefore, not enjoy the film to its fullest.
Negatives aside, Gray created a highly enjoyable film, connecting all people in a time desperate for equality.