STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a well-acted, well-directed but highly selective biopic that takes many of us down a path of music nostalgia and puts west coast gangsta rap back in its context of the Rodney King riots and law enforcement outrage. Produced by Ice Cube and Dr Dre, the movie ungenerously foregrounds their contributions to the iconic rap group NWA at the expense of Arabian Prince and MC Ren. Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) is portrayed as a kind of musical genius but one soon brought under the sway of evil white businessman Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who has understandably sued the film's producers for his unflattering portrayal as a scheming dishonest money man eager to cut Ice Cube out of the action. As for Cube, he's played by the rappers own son O'Shea Jackson Jr who as well as looking the part brings so much energy and conviction to the part he steals the movie. In a sense, this becomes his movie, as he realises he's being stiffed out of royalties, leaves the group, records his own diss record and achieves success. Meanwhile, Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) almost blends into the background in a role so manicured as to become bland. He becomes the dutiful son and the voice of conscience trying to get Eazy-E to see what Heller's doing. It's okay for Apple to say Dre's sorry for his abuse of women during this period but it's also profoundly dishonest not to show it. Still, the basic underlying misogyny can't be totally airbrushed out of the film. Women exist as groupies, light-skinned and pretty if in the foreground. When the band's about to reconcile, Eazy-E tragically dies of HIV, and the movie goes all syrupy. But there are no deathbed tears for the women he infected.
For all that, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON remains a captivating and important film if only because that's what NWA was. It was the first time people like me, a million miles away from the reality of Compton, found out about race riots and racial profiling and the gang crime. And the group was right - they had a right to rap about their reality - a right protected by the Constitution. The scenes of packed out concerts are exhilarating and Matthew Libatique's concert photography is outstanding. So kudos to director F Gary Gray (BE COOL, A MAN APART). Given the constraints presumably applied by the film being made by the two of the characters it portrays, he was never going to be able to make the real story of NWA. But he shows us something of their genius and energy while also giving us period nostalgia of Jherry curls and fat gold ropes.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON has a running time of 147 minutes and is rated R. The movie is available to rent and own.
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