Straight Outta Compton is a biographical drama directed by F. Gary Gray, with a screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. The film tells the true-life story of one of the most controversial, yet inspirational groups in the history of music: N.W.A.
From the moment I found out that a project was in the works to bring the story of N.W.A. to the silver screen, I was captivated. The preeminent gangsta-rap group, which was founded in the mid-1980s, was more than just a fivesome of rappers (I say “five” because credited member Arabian Prince only appeared on one song from the Straight Outta Compton album and was hardly featured in the film); it was a collective of youths, determined to convey to the world the story of the dangers of growing up in the hood. Despite being met with critical and commercial success, the group’s eponymous debut album was subjected to stark criticism from an abundance of powerful groups, including the US Senate and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The lyrics were incredibly profane, derogatory, and aggressive towards the police; it was this content that garnered the group and its debut album such disparagement. In fact, one of the premier tracks on the group’s debut album was titled, “Fuck tha Police,” which featured lyrics that addressed police brutality and racial profiling. Although the “authorities” were not fans, this song epitomized the political message behind N.W.A.’s existence as artists: People need to know what really goes on—what you do not see on the news. As relevant as this message was at the time—nearly thirty years ago—the film’s release has an analogous significance now, as in 2016, we are still battling significantly hostile race issues. N.W.A. was more than a rap group that ultimately crashed and burned—it was the voice of a generation.
Director F. Gary Gray and his team of filmmakers have crafted in Straight Outta Compton more than another cliché biopic—this film is flat-out incredible. I have become so sick of most biopics because they simply pander and bore, delineating nothing more than the fact that filmmakers can follow a strict template of melodramatic, insincere, and unaffecting drivel. Straight Outta Compton is so great because it takes this monotonous formula and flips it on its head with vivacity. The film features numerous “action” scenes of police hostility and brutality, and the ways in which Gray and his cinematographer (Matthew Libatique) portray these atrocious images is unrelenting—they make you feel as if you are living these cruel moments along with the characters. I also loved the scenes of the group’s creative process. As a fan of rap music, and especially N.W.A., it was an unexplainable treat to watch legends like Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and Eazy-E artistically craft of the greatest albums in the history of music. The camerawork is always visually appealing, and Libatique and Gray captured the group’s chemistry with dynamism.
The acting in the film was superb—I am not sure the filmmakers could have created a more cohesive group. Although it was great to see Ice Cube’s very own son—O’Shea Jackson, Jr.—portraying him, the stars of the picture were, without a doubt, Paul Giamatti and Jason Mitchell. Giamatti portrayed Jerry Heller, a notorious music manager and businessman who co-founded Ruthless Records with Eazy-E. Heller was hired by Eazy-E to manage N.W.A., and he was a key figure in the group’s initial success. However, much controversy surrounded Heller’s tactics, as members of the group viewed him as a guy who was truly only looking out for he and Eazy-E’s best interests (and in the end, his devotion to Eazy-E was suspect). Heller was an angry and vicious man at times, but he also had a lighter side, especially regarding his heartfelt relationship with Eazy-E; Giamatti, as a veteran actor, absolutely nailed this portrayal. Giamatti’s deftness for his craft is undeniable, and, considering the film’s cast was mainly a group of young, up-and-coming actors, it was the perfect set of circumstances for Giamatti to make his mark. The film’s best performance, however, came from Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. The story, although about the rise and fall of the group in general, revolves around his character. Eazy-E is the true beginning, middle, and end of the group’s story. He is the one that funded the group’s upstart and acted as the “lead.” He is the one who ultimately was at the center of the group’s demise, due to his relationship with Heller. And his HIV-diagnosis and subsequent death is what ended the chances for a potential reunion of the group. Eazy-E’s story arc is incredibly dynamic, and it was a tall task for Mitchell to take on—Mitchell took on the challenge and succeeded beyond measurability. Mitchell portrays his character as an incredible complex guy—one who has lived the “thug life” and puts on a hard exterior, but who also has a wildly sensitive/emotional side. Jason Mitchell’s delineation of this larger-than-life figure was amazing, and I truly believe he was absolutely snubbed by the Academy in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Much controversy has surrounded the Oscars again this season for its lack of diversity in major categories. Although I disagree with a lot of the hype, I do firmly believe that Straight Outta Compton is a film that deserved much more award praise. This film should have definitely been a Best Picture nominee, and, as mentioned before, Jason Mitchell deserved a nomination for his incredible performance as Eazy-E. Straight Outta Compton is rated R for sequences of language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.
Straight Outta Compton trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsbWEF1Sju0
Academy Award nominations for Straight Outta Compton:
Best Original Screenplay (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Steve Jobs
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Beasts of No Nation
- The Martian