Film Review – Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Speak a little truth and people lose their minds

Named after their debut album released in 1988, Straight Outta Compton chronicles the origins of one of the most iconic and infamous rap groups in history, N.W.A.

The biopic marks the major events of their careers; Eazy meeting manager Jerry Heller, The FBI raiding a concert of theirs, the group’s dispute over royalty payments which caused Ice Cube’s departure, the back-and-forth of diss tracks, Dre meeting Suge Knight and starting up Death Row Records, and of course, Eazy-E’s terminal illness. There are a number of events, however, that people may be unaware of, which do help the audience to understand the group and its members better – such as the extreme conditions of Compton and the harsh treatment of black people by the tyrannical local police force, which inspired a number of their records.

Each rapper is introduced in a way that symbolises their role in the group – The first scene we see in the entire film is a confrontation between Eazy-E and a neighbourhood drug dealer which soon turns aggressive and eventually sees Eazy jumping out of a window to escape. This immediately establishes his ‘gangsta’ persona, which carried him through the rest of his career as the front-man of N.W.A. Ice Cube is introduced as a very composed lyricist growing up in a dangerous environment. We first see him writing lyrics in a notebook on the bus to school, before two members of a local gang raid the bus and hold guns to another student’s head after he mocks them from the window, with Ice Cube staying collected. When we are introduced to Dr. Dre, he is lying on the floor of his bedroom immersed in a Roy Ayers record – this love of music, and his skill as a DJ, sparked his interest in production, earning him the role of the ‘beat-maker’. MC Wren and DJ Yella are shown as the quieter members of the group, however, both with an exceptional writing and production talent.

Some of the most memorable and emotive scenes in the film revolve around the magic of creating music, such as their various studio sessions and live performances, and our introduction to Dr. Dre as we find him passionately mixing old soul vinyl records together with his friends. It would have been nice to see more scenes like this alongside the dramatic elements, rather than the two story arcs coming one after the other, as the film seemed to suddenly shift from an exciting music-filled biopic into a dramatic recollection of the gang’s hardships.

However, this does seem to draw attention to the scenes that focus on the passionate creation of their music, like N.W.A’s energetic live performances which really capture the excitement felt by the rap group and the crowd as they all recite the lyrics together. It is also very interesting to see the beginnings of other popular rap icons such as Tupac and Snoop Dogg, as they collaborate with Dr. Dre for Death Row Records and Aftermath Records.

The casting for Straight Outta Compton is perfect, with each actor resembling their character both physically and in their demeanour, which may have been helped by the actors re-recording the entirety of N.W.A’s debut album, in order to get a more authentic experience of being a part of the group. It is particularly fascinating to see Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing his father in the film, as he performs with such conviction, making his research into the role very clear. The real Jerry Heller refutes his portrayal in the film, mainly due to the fact that the producers (Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, among others) only used their personal recollection of their time together and selected parts of Heller’s autobiography, therefore giving them the freedom to depict him in whatever light they desired which is, of course, rather negatively.

Despite leaving out certain important moments of the band’s history (such as Dre’s abuse of reporter Dee Barnes in 1991, which implies that the members have chosen to re-write some of their history) the biopic has been released at an important time. The film’s themes echo the political situation we are currently facing – one of questioning the government and authority, proving that despite the album being banned and disapproved of, it still remains iconic and culturally relevant. There is already talk of another film in the works following the creation of Dr. Dre’s label, Aftermath, after cutting ties with Death Row Records, which could be a perfect opportunity to portray more of the magical side of producing and crafting new music that this film lacked slightly.

Regardless of the criticism the film has faced, as well as the criticism the group faced after they released their first album, their lives make an undeniably big spectacle. One that will be enjoyed by fans of the group, fans of rap music, as well as those searching for something dramatic and intense.

Jenn Spiers

Music, Biography, Drama | USA, 2015 | 15 |Universal Pictures UK | 28th August 2015 (UK) |Dir. F. Gary Gray | O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell,Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti,