Thursday, August 20, 2015

Straight Outta Compton Review

My personal music taste runs a wide gamut from Broadway tunes to country music to 70's music to even a dabble of pop songs. Rap music isn't my forte, but I've enjoyed some of what I've come across in the genre. Yet, even without me being immersed in the world of rap, it's impossible to avoid the influence N.W.A. had on the world. This musical group still has its work sending ripple effects throughout the world, and with the band having an impact on that scale, it was inevitable that the group would one day receive a cinematic adaptation of their origins and career.

Well that day has come and it has delivered the motion picture Straight Outta Compton, a tale of a group of artists who bring a new perspective and style to the pop culture spectrum. In terms of its story structure, the film hits the conventional beats of typical musical biopics, but that's hardly a criticism considering how absorbing the story of N.W.A. is. Another story-related aspect of the film to note is how it keeps its focus on not just one, but three members of the famous group.

Those three members are Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), who each have a desire to break out and leave their mark on the world with their musical talents. The trio have an easy-going chemistry that makes it easy to get invested in their crusade to get their music out into the world, as well as make any struggles they face as a group all the more engrossing. O'Shea Jackson Jr., in particular, impressed me with not only his physical resemblance to the real life Ice Cube (the fact that that particular rapper is also the father of O'Shea helps explain that phenomenon), but also how he handled depicting Ice Cube in various stags of his life in a natural manner.

One of the smartest aspects of bringing this story to life is that Straight Outta Compton gives the audience direct glimpses into how this groups music impacted the population at large. Seeing protesters steamroll over N.W.A. album, as well as riots that ensued at their concerts, lays bare the tribulations that the bands tunes faced as they entered the pop culture zeitgeist. As Ice Cuber intones as he drives by civilians boycotting their music "Speak a little truth and people lose their mind". That truth, the movie shows, became all the more necessary in this specific day and age, as the gruesome murder of Rodney King is interwoven into the middle portion of the features plot.

F. Gary Gray makes several wise decisions in terms of directing this motion picture, but probably his best is conveying the understandable outrage so many felt in the wake of that horrific murder and the lack of justice for it. After the cops responsible for the death of Rodney King are let off scott free, Gray takes the audience into a chaos-riddled riot where people scream into the heavens hoping to be heard. Through the works of N.W.A., members of society who weren't given a way to communicate their life, their worries, their fears were suddenly given a band who allowed them a chance to lend their presence to the world at large.

After this sequence, as well as the crucial plot point of the band breaking up, the film slows a bit down since one of the movies most winning aspects (the rapport between Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E) vanishes. But thankfully, the movie remains plenty engaging in this part of the story, especially in one of the films final scenes where Eazy-E confronts his manager Jerry (played by the always excellent Paul Giamatti). Really, even if you're like me and don't know musical rap from a candy wrapper, it'd be near impossible not to let that scene and Straight Outta Compton as a whole become an enriching cinematic experience.

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