Movie Review: ‘STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON’ Brings the Heat

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Preston Barta // Features Editor


STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON | 140 min | R
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr. and Paul Giamatti

Rap supergroup N.W.A. had an undeniable influence on hip-hop. All modern rap seems to connect back to them, and some deemed them The Beatles of hip-hop due to their massive stature in the world of music. Their name, “Niggaz Wit Attitudes,” reflected their aggressive, don’t-care perspective, and their music shared the frustrations and hopes of a lost and rudderless generation. N.W.A.’s brutal honesty made waves and unquestionably altered the culture around them. From this storied history, F. Gary Gray’s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON defies expectations and cruises far beyond its core fan base and the typical trappings associated with biopics and the hip-hop genre.

This no-holds-barred film drops us into 1987 Compton, where we meet young Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), as they emerge from the streets to form N.W.A. They rose fast, igniting a social revolution that still reverberates today.

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON could not have released at a more relevant time. Racial violence still exerts a very real and pervasive influence in America, even three decades after the start of this story. Within the first few minutes of the film, filmmaker F. Gary Gray (FRIDAY) showcases the indisputable parallels between the Compton in his film and the Baltimore and Ferguson footage rolling on CNN today.

One particular shot in the film zooms in on a red and blue bandana, linked in unison as rival gangs joined against what they felt was the oppression of the police. Times were bad, especially after the beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of the officers involved sparked the L.A. Riots of ‘92. Even before that, there are sequences in the film that show N.W.A. members getting their faces slammed into pavement and cars, primarily by white officers. The horrors of the time are inextricably tied to the sea change in music history brought about by N.W.A., and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON does not shy away from these hard topics.

Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as Dj Yella, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, and O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as Dj Yella, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The release of N.W.A.’s albums Straight Outta Compton and Niggaz4Life caused an uproar and became a topic of great contention. However, N.W.A., as well as Universal Pictures with the film, have made it quite clear that they are not seeking to provoke but rather portray what has/is happening in the world in a honest way, even if it shocks and upsets people. The honest power and weight this film carries leaves a lasting impression and much to chew on.

This is a polarizing and suspenseful character-driven drama. Not only does the film display alluring cinematography and skillful art direction that blends itself with its story penned by Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus, but it features powerful performances from its ensemble, especially Jason Mitchell (CONTRABAND) as Eazy-E and Ice Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who looks exactly like Cube in his prime).

Great films are ones that allow their characters to develop at a life-like pace before throwing in authentic climatic elements. Too many screenwriters today buy into a more blockbuster-style of writing, essentially “cliff noting” scripts and serving the entrée sans appetizer. Thankfully this is not the case with STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.

While its 140-minute run-time seems questionable on paper, the film moves and keeps you engaged throughout with its jokes, compelling performances and shocking story events. The final moments of the film may drag its feet a bit, but it’s warranted by what happens leading up to the film’s close. You’ll quickly forgives its melodramatic clichés and Paul Giamatti’s typecast (always playing the slimy character) by giving yourself over to its raw and authentic portrayal that teaches you to “express yourself.”

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON opens tonight.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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