Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Bottom Line: A well developed, well told biopic of the genre defining rap group NWA. Some great music and good acting. Becomes a little lost in the last act.
I was a high schooler when NWA’s debut album, “Straight Outta Compton”, first came out. Besides all the controversy surrounding the group, the music pretty much wasn’t on my radar. I remember being more amused by the lyrical battles between Ice Cube and NWA (which are awesome!) than enjoying their other social commentary stuff (which is also pretty good). This movie spans the forming of the group up to shortly after the death of founding member, Easy-E when NWA was getting back together to tour.
Much ink has been spilled over the glossing over of history in the movie, but I think it’s as fair as possible given that there is only so much that can be put in two and a half hours. The members of NWA are shown as human beings who both did things wrong and right. Yep, both they and their lyrics were misogynist. Yep, both they and their lyrics were violent. What’s surprising is how little ink I’ve seen spilled over how topical NWA’s socially conscious lyrics continue to be two and a half decades later. What’s even more surprising retrospectively is how much white America feared a bunch of young kids blowing off steam by using one of the only creative outlets available to them.
The movie gets a little lost when it gets into the handling of the Rodney King beating and subsequent not guilty verdict of the LAPD police officers. It figures prominently in the movie, but there’s not much except looks of incredulity offered by the band members along with a really weird scene of them driving slowly through the riots that ensued after the verdict came in. I’m sure their reactions were much more emotional than what was portrayed and I think the director missed a good opportunity to use a universal historical moment to help non-blacks understand where the rage from their lyrics comes from.
There is also some decent acting in this movie from relative unknowns (and Paul Giamatti). Throughout the movie, I found it eerie how much the actor who played Ice Cube looked kinda like him but not quite only to find out from the credits that it was his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who had never acted before this role and who you can see growing into the role as the movie progressed. I especially liked Jason Mitchell as Easy-E, who in the beginning of the movie I couldn’t get out of my head how he looked kind of like a young Dave Chappelle. Corey Hawkins played Dr. Dre very effectively as well. I would not be at all surprised if this movie kick starts all of their careers.
If you remember the days of NWA, you should certainly see this movie. If you want to see how little has changed in so many years, you should definitely see this movie. If you like biopics and especially ones about musicians, you will not be disappointed in this movie. It has that rare combination of entertainment and information that doesn’t come often.
Oh, and I also discovered that Suge Knight is still alive. I thought he was killed. He’s only been shot half a million times and survived it all. Dude has nine lives, most of the rest of which will probably be served in jail.