Straight Outta Compton is robust, vital entertainment, painting a vivid tapestry of one of the most turbulent periods of modern societal unrest, and telling an oversized, extremely engrossing tale that’s distinctly American and part of the greater cultural shift over the last 20 years. In a field of 10 potential nominees, even if I felt that there were better films, I am shocked that this movie didn’t have enough votes to get a Best Picture nomination with the Academy, especially considering the fact that it received a hat tip in the Original Screenplay category. It’s timely, it’s provocative, and it’s BIG. But whatever…Oscars or no Oscars…the movie was a massive critical and box office success, and for journeyman director F. Gary Gray, easily the best, most polished work of his career. The film has a dynamic visual style thanks to the slick yet gritty cinematography by Matthew Libatique, and it goes without saying, the movie moves to a SERIOUSLY awesome beat as a result of the near constant greatest hits that play over the soundtrack. Performances across the board are excellent and emotionally affecting, especially those by Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube (Cube’s son in real life, hence the uncanny physical resemblance), and Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre. All three of these guys absolutely ripped into their roles with conviction and gusto, and are never unconvincing at any point. They have a great sense of chemistry with one another, and they all complimented each other’s performances by never allowing any one actor to overly dominate.
And what Gray and his crew of screenwriters achieved extremely well in Straight Outta Compton was to present the viewer with a time capsule of a city, and a nation, in flux, with the topical discussion of racism and unnecessary brutality and harassment at the hands of the police still an important and incendiary top of discussion. Gangster rap is as American as apple pie and baseball, intrinsically linked to certain sections of this country, with seepage occurring at random and all over. To denounce gangster rap as sensationalistic or as a glamorization of violence and drugs and misogyny would require you to push back against years of TV shows and movies that have all done the same thing – exploit the exploitable elements with a certain degree of swagger. But the difference, if you’re paying attention, was that there were messages in the songs of NWA, songs that spoke to a distinct set of people first and foremost, but offered a glimpse into another world for many others. Yes, the film has a traditional arc, and you get the scenes you’d expect from the musical biopic genre, but even then there’s a zesty sense of professionalism occurring in every filmmaking department. Fans of NWA will love this film, and the uninitiated should walk out with a new understanding, and hopefully respect, for an art form that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but one that speaks its mind loud and clear, with an understanding of the difficulties of life at the center of the action. Version screened was a Blu-ray of the 2 hour 50 minute unrated director’ cut; I think I know which bit of sexual shenanigans was cut by the prudish asses at the MPAA.