Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton
by Gino Fanelli | published Aug. 30th, 2015
Much like the iconic 1988 album of the same name, F. Gary Gray's NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton"is steeped in endless controversy. Charges of misogyny alongside a demand for heightened cinema security due to the film's content have made for a stew of tension and scrutiny, though these certainly have been not a hindrance on its success, with $111 million box office as of August 23. Thus making this a difficult review to do. Can "Straight Outta Compton" be evaluated solely as a movie itself, or must the sum of its various social and political elements also be factored in? Hard to say, but for the sake of fairness, it's only right to look at all angles.
These sequences, most notably the Compton recording sessions, are boiled down to a series of montages. An odd choice which leads to some truly ham-fisted moments. For example, a scene where the five are harassed by the LAPD in front of the recording studio, wherein Giamatti goes full cliche overzealous manager and nearly gets them all shot, is immediately followed by Cube handing Dre a sheet of paper, then followed immediately by Cube in the recording booth rapping the first lines to "Fuck Tha Police."
What comes from this lack of subtlety is a film which, by its final act where Eazy ever so slowly creeps towards death, runs out of steam. Call this a simple fault of run-time, or by over-ambition of a movie which attempts to touch on everything from the Rodney King riots to shady record company executives, and everything in between, including bizarrely meta scenes of Jackson Jr., playing Jackson Sr., lamenting on the financial security for his son, Jackson Jr. Emphasis on "attempts." Social consciousness feels forced, drama is contrived, and often frivolous, and, perhaps most realistically, MC Ren and DJ Yella become background characters quite quickly.
This isn't to say there isn't some value to be found. All performances are relatively well-acted, albeit sometimes awkward, especially in the case of Jackson Jr., with his apparent inability to maintain eye contact. Scenes of police brutality are poignant, especially in the case of the beautifully shot Detroit concert riot. And overall, when viewing this movie solely as a dramatized story of NWA, it gets the message across in a way that's accessible to fans and uninitiated watchers alike.
And thus, it is up to the audience to take away what they want from "Straight Outta Compton." It's a decent, entertaining watch, but it is also fantasy. It takes place in a universe where "the most dangerous group in the world" are a band of heroes, and any dissenter, nay-sayer, authority figure or contradictory voice is wrong. The eponymous album may be one of the greatest hip hop records of all time, but riding on the waves of this glory offers nothing but an obscured truth.