I really liked this film, even though I’m not normally a fan of hip hop, because it has a great story and great characters and, I have to admit, some great music. It’s a bio-drama about a group of friends in one of Los Angeles’s rougher neighborhoods who got together in the mid-80s and used hip hop to describe their lives and spread their truth and were blown away by the incredible reception to their message. They became huge stars and changed the music industry. And all these years later, the racism and discrimination they were reacting to in their music feels just as relevant.
The film focuses on three young men who would come to be known as Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. As the film begins they’re friends living in Compton and accustomed to massive over-policing and violence. They’re just getting by, dealing drugs, DJing, writing poems. But when they join together and form gangsta rap group N.W.A., their talents mesh in a way that attracts a lot of attention. Sadly, the first to recognize their massive appeal is a slimy manager named Jerry Heller, played perfectly by Paul Giamatti, who shepherds them into the mainstream, but takes advantage of their naivete in the process, ultimately leading to the young artists going their separate ways. But while they’re together they are a cultural force that pushes a lot of the establishment’s buttons and strikes a rebellious chord with their young audience, most notably with their hit song F*ck tha Police, which gives the film one of its most memorable scenes.
The film has its A Star is Born elements, but also its Entourage moments, with the bonds of friendship being tested again and again, and the contextualization of the violence in the music makes it a lot more interesting. (I am still not a fan of the uber-misogynistic lyrics in a lot of hip hop though, and it is in your face in the film.) The movie is extremely well cast. In fact, the actor who plays Ice Cube and looks so much like him is his son. Straight Outta Compton is not a movie for oldsters or children, but it is a powerful and extremely well done look at a moment in music that still matters. And it’s probably going to make some awards show noise.
Rated R for a ton of cussing and loads of naked women.