THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS TIMES CREATED THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS GROUP.
The story of how the rap group N.W.A. started was sanctioned by its two most prominent members, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who also served as producers. You’ve even got Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., playing Cube. In other words, it comes as not much of a surprise to see both men portrayed in a positive light. We see examples of theirs and other N.W.A. members’ misogynistic treatment of women, but maybe not the worst of it, as has been indicated by people who were there at the time. Dre has taken responsibility for his behavior and issued apologies. On the whole though, the film’s depiction of race and class is more interesting.
Being young and black in 1980s Compton, California means having to get used to oppression – from gangs and the Los Angeles Police Department, two violent forces who are fighting for the upper hand in the neighborhood. A group of friends, including Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) form a hiphop group called N.W.A. Their music channels all the negative influences on their community and this blend of energy, anger and sheer talent captures the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), a washed-up music manager in need of a hit.
He gets them signed by a record company, but as N.W.A. goes about producing their first album, “Straight Outta Compton”, only Eazy-E receives a contract. That’s the beginning of what will eventually break up the group…
The story needs time to unravel
In the 1990s, F. Gary Gray made several music videos for Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. He went on to become a movie director, and even though John Singleton allegedly flirted with the idea of making this movie Gray feels like a good choice. The running time may be long, but the story needs time to unravel as Gray and the writers establish the kind of environment that the N.W.A. members grow up in, and depict their subsequent lives as stars, the continuing battle with law-enforcement agencies, the tension within the group and finally the tragedy that affected them all. The film follows a formula that we’ve seen in many other music biographies, but has a ring of truth.
The leading actors are good enough for the story, including Jackson who certainly looks like his dad, but they are supported by an excellent turn from Giamatti. R. Marcos Taylor is also convincing as the movie’s real bad guy, music producer Suge Knight, whose violent antics have become legendary. The movie consequently depicts the LAPD as a threatening presence, and they have not been happy about it. The movie puts cops’ lives at risk at a time when the relationship between police and black citizens is awful, they argue… but the filmmakers had an obligation not to whitewash history and the movie does the public service of explaining how the LAPD’s behavior fed violence.
The press screening took place in a theater full of us white middle-class critics getting educated about life on the street. It’s easy to feel steamrolled, because the film is so vibrant. It’s our job though to point out flaws. I felt that some of the events and subplots were dropped a little too fast. But the narrative isn’t everything. Listening to N.W.A.’s music after seeing the movie is like being brought right back to it. Atmosphere, credibility and attitude are key.
Straight Outta Compton 2015-U.S. 147 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, David Engel, F. Gary Gray, Bill Straus, Tomica Woods-Wright. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff. Cast: O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown, Jr., Paul Giamatti.
Last word: “Dre wasn’t involved when Cube gave me the script four years ago. I knew the story, but I was nervous because it spanned 10 years and there were so many story lines, good times and bad, it was a lot to fit into a two-hour film. But I read it and saw something I didn’t expect: My own story, coming from South Central and finding a way out of poverty, and all the opposing forces that work against you. They did that. This wasn’t just hip-hop history, it was an American underdog story that could inspire others. These guys made it out. It wasn’t always pretty but there’s something Shakespearean about it, with brotherhood, rags to riches, betrayals. Timeless, universal themes. ” (Gray, Deadline)