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    Straight Outta Compton (2015): Movie Review

    “A sharp, evocative and compelling biopic about N.W.A.” 

    Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray, is a two-and-a-half-hour bio-epic of pioneering hip-hop group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude). Its name taken from the title of the group’s groundbreaking 1988 debut album, this panoramic film is a fun, angry, sad, and inspiring story of a music icon and their songs which revolutionized human realities.

    The movie begins in 1986 with the blossoming friendship between O’Shea Jackson a.k.a. Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and aspiring DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins). They convince their drug dealer neighbor, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), to produce and fund his own record label which later comes to be known as Ruthless Records. With words written by Cube, beat produced by Dre, and performed by terrified Eazy-E, the track “Boyz-n-the-Hood” becomes a big local hit. This attracts the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), a veteran rock manager, who then offers bigger promises to the trio. Recruiting MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), the hip-hop group N.W.A. is born.

    Heller connects the group to Priority Records who provide them resources to create their very first album – the “Straight Outta Compton.” The album becomes a phenomenal success but it all come with a price. Suspicious and angry with Heller, Cube leaves the group and pursue a solo career. Former friends turn rivals which results to rap battles and public brawls. Later, Dre also leaves and produces his own label, Death Row, with Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor). Eventually, realizations dawn on Eazy-E and just when he reunites with his friends, an incurable sickness will be his final test. 

    Straight Outta Compton is a masterful adaptation of a complex history. It may be another underdog story but it depicts its material in its crudest and most honest form. It portrays how musicians and artists change the world around them, but the music in the film is the type far from being sweet and ass-kisser. Deriving wisdom from the streets, the songs are brutally honest and shamelessly profane. They are violent, undiplomatic and fearless.

    With their album “Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A. told their thuggish life in South LA through music. Later forming a subgenre known as “gangsta rap,” their songs are filled with rage and anger. Subtly, it is also enlightening and inspiring. With its violent nature, it is no wonder it earned a “parental advisory” tag and a “letter” from the F.B.I. The film is sincere in its depiction as it shows both sides. It does not sugar-coat its wild, unfriendly themes or make the rappers heroes with their struggles.

    The group’s 1988 song “Fuck tha Police” is prominently featured in the movie. It is energetic, groovy and high in spirit. The story behind the song is one of the film’s most chilling moments. While taking a break from recording, the group is humiliatingly searched and taken down by the local cops. Heller comes to his talents’ rescue but the police only ridicule the existence of hip-hop music. Motivated by the incident, the group put voice to the abuse experienced by black Americans in the hands of law enforcers and “Fuck tha Police” was born. As seen in the movie, the song became an anthem in many riots and demonstrations.

    The film may be unrepentant in showing rage and violence, but it also has moments of tenderness and quiet. When Ice Cube launches his own career, the remaining group are quite appreciative of his songs. When Dre loses his brother to death, the others are sympathetic. And when Eazy-E confesses his battle against HIV, his friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends-again are quick to lend support and love.

    The characters are put life with the vibrant and compelling performances of its young cast. Undoubtedly, they exude tremendous chemistry and contagious camaraderie. Hawkins is warm as Dr. Dre and Jackson Jr., the real-life son of the rapper, is volatile as Ice Cube. Mitchell is a revelation as he holds the film’s best performance. Through his ups and downs, he is dynamic, brave and sweet as Eazy-E. Long-time actor Giamatti is effective as the part-villain, part-angel Heller. He is fishy at first glance but his sincere willingness to help is also not unacceptable. 

    Straight Outta Compton is a relentless and brutish piece of art. It is sharp and effervescent, honest and shameless, stirring and tender. Fan or not, one can’t help but admire the vivid lives of the men behind the revolutionary gangsta rap.


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