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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.

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