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Review: Straight Outta Compton

Posted By:Lawrence Napoli
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 16:00

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Chronically Cubed and Cured

A Film review of Straight Outta Compton

 

Biopic films can sometimes be a difficult sell to studios and audiences because some can get too focused on heavy-handed performances and dramatic historical recreations.  They also tend to move awfully slow and get a bit chatty as most individuals selected for this sort of Hollywood treatment aren’t exactly James Bond types.  Straight Outta Compton is a film that plays like a biopic, but never loses sight of maintaining a high entertainment value thanks to two important factors.  First, the individuals that comprised the NWA lived real lives that interwove with some of the most signature elements showcased in cinematic crime dramas such as guns, drugs, gangs, money, violence, loyalty, betrayal, ego and unbridled psychosis.  These dangers were as real as they were common to these young men as the audience bears witness to a number of specific incidents involving the main characters that directly explains where they come from, why they feel the way they do and how it all inspired their music.  Second, as seductive as all of the aforementioned vices may be on the fictional screen, they all constitute secondary window dressing to the music of NWA.  With a multitude of scenes that use original recordings, the energy of some of NWA’s slickest tracks keeps the audience engaged with aggressive beats and defiant lyrics.

“Art reflecting life” was clearly the name of the game for this expertly casted, performed, directed and produced example of cinema.  However, the audience should be made well aware that this film prizes the concept of legacy above all else so expect a lot of pulled punches when the mirror is held not-so-directly upon the individuals of NWA; specifically Dr. Dre.  Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were at the epicenter of this film’s production staff as their firsthand accounts, attention to detail and mentoring of the young actors portraying their past selves certainly enhanced the overall quality of the film.  But, director F. Gary Gary is boys with Cube and Dre having directed Friday (1995) as well as music videos for both and he certainly protects everyone that has the most to lose about revisiting parts of the past deemed too brutal for general audiences.  Perhaps this is the reason why John Singleton (Boyz ‘n the Hood, Higher Learning) wasn’t tapped to direct this film because his style would demand showing at least some aspect of Dre’s admitted violence against women to raise the stakes and the drama.  To suggest that this movie presents a revisionist’s history concerning NWA’s individuals is the understatement of the century. 

Be that as it may, I must remind the reader that this biopic is still a work of fiction and (as with The Imitation Game) is not a documentary designed to expose fact.  Straight Outta Compton is a drama rooted in a popular corner of the music business culture, but electrified by uncommonly refined performances by a raw cast of relative unknowns.  Even putting aside the fact that most of these young men are the spitting image of which they portray (especially Marcc Rose as Tupac in a short scene where I’m certain necromancy was involved in its creation), the sincerity and visceral execution of the cast’s performance makes this movie Oscar worthy.  The audience feels the frustration, the ambivalence, the defiance and the ascendancy.  I would be shocked if Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E doesn’t at least get a nomination for best male lead or best supporting performance from the Academy.

[Note: the MPS rating system is still in full effect, but as it is a system designed around fairness, its modular nature allows for the non-application of categories not relevant to the production: in this case, digital effects]

Action Style

There is a surprising amount of action for this film as its first moments make it seem like Eazy-E is some true to life action star, but this eventually reverts to typical dramatic action through the general application of common violence during what may seem like uncommon times.

4/6

Action Frame

There are no moments of stagnation during this film as there is a constant change in scenery as well as dynamic camera work during NWA concerts.  Close-ups are not abused and truly mark the moments of high drama.

3/5

Lead Performance

O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) completely buy into their roles and embody their characters fully.  The shear quality of their performance is a sight to see.

6/6

Supporting Performance

Paul Giamatti matches tone quite well with the young guns of the rest of the cast.  R. Marcos Taylor is almost as psychotic scary as the real life Suge Knight.  Did I mention Tupac was channeled from beyond?

5/5

Music

The music is as important as any one character in this entire film.  Nothing about this story is relevant without it.

6/6

Sound F/X

Seemed good enough throughout.  Nothing notably negative to report.

3/5

“Moving” = 27/33

Digital F/X

[NA]

[NA]

Special F/X

Minimal use of gunfire and its residual effects, but cruising cars with hydraulics and how they “light up” the streets was fun to see.  

2/5

Costumes

Biopics are always going for authenticity (at least regarding the look) and this production obviously raided the accumulated inventory of Lids to get part of the job done.  Still, the wardrobe isn’t particularly exciting.

3/6

Hair & Makeup

Exceedingly good casting shares in the excellent work being done to make the actors look their parts as well as possible.

5/5

Exteriors

Impoverished Compton is a far cry from the lavish hotels and even more lavish domiciles secured by the wealthiest of the NWA.

5/6

Interiors

Very interesting to see the evolution of the recording studios from the one NWA initially rents out all the way to the sharpness of Death Row Records.

4/5

“Picture” = 19/27

Hook

Learning a bit more details about the culmination of the NWA and the rise of Gangsta Rap may only be interesting to some.  You don’t need to be a fan of rap to appreciate this film, but it certainly helps.

¾

Conflict

Jerry Heller may be the de facto “villain,” but his portrayal is very sympathetic.  More interesting is the conflict the group experiences from the life they left to the life they were rewarded with is the fitting definition of more money, more problems.

4/4

Resolution

The story ends on a somber, yet very practical book end to this story of NWA, but the “aftermath” effects of the group’s influence was a commercial for Beats and Ice Cube movies and it left a sour, corporate, taste in my mouth.

2/4

Dialogue

Authentic dialogue is really interesting when west coast terminology needs to be explained to east coast talent.  You don’t need to be fluent in Ebonics to comprehend what’s going on for the rest of the film.

4/6

Exposition

The audience has a good grasp of the overall activity as we’re constantly reminded of the time and place thanks to a healthy application of titles, but the details do drop off as to why we get to the places we get to and how the characters have changed during those transitions.

2/5

Character Uniqueness

Why is it that music stars always seem like the most eccentric out of the entire celebrity class?  Well, it’s because they are.

5/6

Character Relatability

Not all of America can identify with the harsh realities of the urban ghetto, but even less can empathize with machine guns on tour, parties populated by exclusively naked women and dog fights in the recording studio.

2/5

“Story” = 22/34

Overall MPS Rating:  68/94 or 72%

 

Approaching this movie as any sort of inside track on the “real” happenings of the NWA would be a mistake because the propaganda of the film conflicts with police reports of reality.  The better mindset would be simply sitting down to be entertained by a screen story inspired by true events.  It is one heck of an entertaining tale that strikes a great balance between poignant drama and lyric action with a dash of laugh-out-loud comedic beats, but viewer be forewarned; this is a very male centric film.  It depicts women as eye candy set pieces and obstacles to productivity, so this may not be the best movie to plan a date night around.  Despite all the legitimate criticism this production deserves, it would be a crime to dismiss the excellent performances displayed by the entire cast.  Gritty, gutsy and as true to life as the public personas they presented to the world is the least that can be said of all the actors fortunate enough to be a part of this film.  As the fall approaches, so too does the Hollywood award season and I consider Straight Outta Compton as an early contender for some Oscar gold; that is of course, if Dre and Cube are willing to play a bit more Hollywood politics to get in that race.

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