Straight Outta Compton: Entertaining and Still Relevant Biopic

straight_outta_compton_posterA sprawling, vastly entertaining rap biopic, Straight Outta Compton is part factual tale of a revolutionary musical group, part historical account of tumultuous times, part chronicle of a whole region and city (Los Angeles) and amazingly satisfying on all of these levels.

Though vastly different, Straight Outta Compton may fulfill the same function–put it on the historical and cultural map as a significant site–in the same way that Selma did for that crucial spot during the Civil Rights Movement



Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

straight_outta_compton_5Director F. Gary Gray’s ambitious biopic is different from other musical films of its genre in that it offers a collective portrait–Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E as the original Empire members–instead of focusing on a single individual.


In this big sprawling story, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) dominates the first reel of the movie as the first star from the super group. He had the cash (through selling crack) to get the studio time, claimed the first hit single (“Boyz-n-the-Hood”), and got the aggressive manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who got the group signed and on the road.

straight_outta_compton_4In my interview with Ice Cube, he claimed that it was always clear to him that the movie would be dedicated to group founder, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who had passed away in 1995.

The screenplay originated after years of interviews and research compiled by music documentarian S. Leigh Savidge (Welcome to Death Row) and screenwriter Alan Wenkus. That early draft served as the foundation for Andrea Berloff ’s working version who, along with scribe Jonathan Herman, fine-tuned the material into the shooting script.

straight_outta_compton_2Eazy-E’s goal was to portray life in the ’hood with frank lyrics by Ice Cube and infectious beats by Dr. Dre. In other words, he wished to create a new movement that evoked their experiences in Compton with an unprecedented boldness and honesty.  Together with DJ Yella and MC Ren, the five made iconic music that exploded beyond American society’s poverty stricken urban centers, attracting attention around the world.

The movie is grounded in authenticity in every respect, beginning with the casting of the coveted roles, all played compellingly by Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, multi-threat performers who can sing, dance, and act and hail  back from a very specific place and time.

straight_outta_compton_1Shot by the brilliant cinematographer Matthew Libatique (best known for his collaborations with Daren Aronofsky, such as the Oscar winner Black Swan), the film offers visual (as well as other) pleasures.

Thematically, Straight Outta Compton may be overly ambitious in trying to cover a huge turf and historical era, but for the most part the film accomplishes what it sets out to do.

The film takes its time in developing the character’s relationships, their rise tofame, and the context in which they lived and operated–the film runs two and half hours–but there is never a dull moment.

You could argue, if you nitpick, that the movie should have been messier, dirtier, and bolder, but what we get on screen is so powerful and engrossing that it’s easy to disregard the picture’s few shortcomings.