Elsewhere Review: Straight Outta Compton

Too lazy to write up another bit of something on this fabulous film, so here’s the piece I wrote at Geek for e.  As always, clicky on the title for the original piece!

TwitView: Straight Outta Compton


Powerfully acted, amazing concert recreations, and a story that pays tribute to the legends while still being extremely relevant today.  Boom.  Grade: A

First things first; no, you don’t have to be up on your 90s gangster rap to “get” Straight Outta Compton. Because Compton is more than a film about rap stars that made it big. It’s about a group of young men who by sheer luck and great talent managed to blast out of their humble beginnings and onto the charts by telling the unvarnished truth about their lives. And that story — the modern day hero’s quest, if you will — is what makes Compton so compelling.  Compton covers the story of N.W.A., and the men involved with the group, from their beginnings in Compton through the breakup, solo careers and ends with the death of Easy-E.

Scenes of blatant police misconduct hit especially hard after the police related deaths in Ferguson, Baltimore and New York. So do the performances; the actors embody their characters so completely that at times it’s hard to remember this isn’t a documentary. Ice Cube’s real-life son plays Cube in the movie, and the resemblance is uncanny. So are Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Dr. Dre and Easy-E.

Be aware that with a story about the music business, there will be plenty of sex, drugs and foul language.  Don’t go into Compton thinking they’ll gloss over things to make it play in Peoria.  This film pulls no punches, and there are enough debauched pool parties, savage beatdowns, and n-word shoutouts to fill several films.  (Okay, one punch was pulled; there’s no mention of Dre’s history of violence against women.  Guess that’s to be expected when Dre and Cube are producers.)  And the film is better for being so open with all aspects of their lives.

I’d have liked the film to have dug a little deeper into the story of manager Jerry Heller (played with cards-to-the-chest smoothness by Paul Giamatti) – was he a good guy who was misunderstood, or did he take advantage of artists who depended on his honesty? But as Compton is about N. W. A., that’s another story for another time, and perhaps one we’ll never truly know for certain.

Speaking of managers, Death Row Records’ kingpin Suge Knight is here too.  .38 caliber warts and all.  If Suge Knight is one eighth as horrible as the film portrayed him, I’m amazed is film throws that much shade at him. Because in Compton, he’s portrayed as a psychopathic monster who beat, threatened and possibly killed his way to fame and fortune.  I’m guessing that this film isn’t sitting well with him, as he’s been charged with running over and killing someone as a commercial for Compton was being filmed.  Knight’s ex-wife Michel’le is referenced in the film, but never portrayed onscreen.

Music fans will enjoy scenes that include Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur (Keith Stanfield and Marcc Rose), along with the absolutely amazing concert scenes.  The soundtrack is, of course, amazing. (Hello Parliament!) So are the scenes that recreate recording sessions, and moments where Dre, Cube and others create their art. I almost bounced in my chair when the first strains of “California Love” cranked up, and a scene where Dre and Snoop begin to collaborate on “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”.

But it’s the clear-eyed look at violence in the inner cities that makes Compton rise above the usual Behind the Music snowjob.  When Ice Cube tries to walk across the street to get to his house after visiting a neighbor, police throw him against a cruiser and handcuff him.  Reason?  None.  Even when his parents tell the officers he’s their son, there’s no quarter given. And that’s only one of many similar scenes.  (A moment in front of their recording studio is particularly heartwrenching, as is the recreation of N.W.A.’s ’94 Detroit concert.)  The leads radiate hurt, humiliation and anger, as the actors playing police give their characters a sinister inability to see more than skin color.  These moments are what drove these performers, and they are also what drives this film.

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