The first hour of this team-written film is terrific: creativity flows down to the initial and unusual studio credits, the cast names caught on background walls, and the joy of the beat. The themes are timely:power in the form of police abuse,power in the form of art to heal. The subject matter of business-manager-sleaze and peer intimidation hits hard. The deadly sins of greed and lust for fame are held forth and can be tapped for post-viewing discussion. There is lots to celebrate and there is much to talk about,yet “Straight Outta Compton”‘s last hour and a half is repetitive and calls to be edited. It smacks of melodrama and the same exploitation it tries to portray. It takes NWA (Niggas With Attitude) too long to learn that friendship matters most.
Too many screenplay writers may be the cause for the choppy sequencing,but too many stories and characters may be the cause,too. Three out of five hip hop artists are highlighted,yet the three-stories-in-one need to be tightened. This being said,the actors are terrific and F. Gary Gray directs the large cast well. Dr. Dre Young(Corey Hawkins) is the talented “beat setter”. Dr.Dre coaches Eazy-E Wright(Jason Mitchell) in the passion needed to be felt,and Ice Cube played by Ice Cube’s real son,O’Shea Jackson,Jr. is the “word man” with the lyrics to turn pain into the power of recognition. One frightening scene has him on a school bus writing in his speckled notebook and clowning with gang signs out the window. When a car pulls in front of the bus and a real gang member enters with a gun to lecture and to brag that he kills Crimps for breakfast, we fear for our observant wordsmith.We know there are body bags in the Compton dump. We also know that the LAPD have a six-ton tank with a battery ram. Ruthlessness reigns on both sides.
Humor and “put down” dissing is fast and fun. The “boogie bands” and “dusty ass garage” slings hone in on “playing the dozens”. “The California Raisins Label” for Priority Records draws an ironic laugh. When the FBI are called in to quench what they take as a reasonably stated threat against law enforcement,we hear our rappers respond with “people lose their minds when they hear a little truth.” “F The Police” is censored from being played in Detroit. Middle fingers are held up and so are badges. Riots play out. First Amendment Rights and three-inch-gold-chain culture mingle.
The pool orgies and Cognac guzzling have too much screen time. But butt and breast oogling is balanced with a woman journalist asking one star, ” What does a guy do when he starts making money like this?” Somehow the answer of “Raider’s gear” leaves a lot to be desired. Then there are the managers. Jerry Heller played snake-like by Paul Giamatti lies about contracts and criticizes ego,excess and expectations all the while contributing to all three. In-fighting among the group and new companies started prove equally disastrous. Red devil-suited Suge Wright ( R. Marcos Taylor )spreads the greed and ugliness to new Satanic heights. With the Rodney King verdict as backdrop,”Treat people poorly and they will rise up” is applied to the “Death Row Label” Suge,too.
See this film for the music,and for the 1980-1990 history of oppression and fear, and for the rise of marginalized voices soaring, and as a critique of values that elevate the “top dog” to billboard heights.