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While Straight Outta Compton doesn’t seem like the type of film which should have just been released on VH1 or BET as a TV movie, it does lack the emotional jab you’d expect as it goes into the trials and tribulations of both the professional and personal lives of the NWA alumni.
Trigger Warning(s): Misogyny
Characters & Story
From humble beginnings in Compton, CA to the end of Eazy-E’s (Jason Mitchell) life and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) leaving Death Row, the film tries to cover a lot of ground. However, as you’d expect, only the big names to emerge out of NWA, like Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Drew, and Eazy-E get the type of focus which keeps them from being comic relief like what DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) was portrayed as, or as someone who was part of the group, but perhaps not a major force, like MC Ren (Aldis Hodge).
But, for most of the movie, what we watch is the rise of NWA; the business dealings of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) slowly driving the major members, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, out of the group; the rise of Ice Cube as a solo artist, as well as Dr. Dre’s rise as a solo artist with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) beside him; Eazy-E finally learning all his problems are due to Jerry; and then comes the decline of Eazy-E’s health, during his plans for a NWA reunion, and Dre leaving Death Row for aftermath.
From an entertainment perspective, there isn’t much more you can ask for when it comes to a likely embellished retelling of the late 80s to mid-90s. The film has all the music which the greats sampled, as well as many of NWA’s hits, as well as the work Dr. Dre produced post NWA; it is funny as hell, especially thanks to Brown Jr. and Mitchell’s performances; and it tries to elevate, if not re-educate, how NWA was more than the innovators of gangster rap music, but were trying to speak upon an almost unnatural life in which people fear the cops, live in poverty, and pretty much are reliant on negative outside forces coming into their community in order to survive.
To elaborate further, one of the strong messages of the movie dealt with seemingly playing into the many issues Black and Brown people are having with police officers nowadays. For whether it is being racially profiled, The Rodney King case, or the utter vulgarity and excessive force the police use, it seems that as much as this film was about Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube, it was just as much about showing that this whole issue with police abusing their authority, it ain’t nothing new.
But for those not into social commentary, as noted, this movie is comical. Eazy-E is the primary one cracking jokes and keeping you giggling, and every now and then DJ Yella has a one liner which is going to crack you up. As for the rest of the boys? Pretty much Jackson Jr. is all about putting on the type of dramatic performance which shows he isn’t just in this film because his father is an executive producer, and as for Hawkins? Well, he is giving a good amount of diversity, script-wise, and depending on how much you get into the film, you may find his work quality.
Leaving, of course, the need to reiterate the music selection which was excellent. I mean, I don’t know a whole lot of NWA’s music, and arguably outside of the tracks everyone knows, like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nothing But A G’ Thing” I had to admit I didn’t know the words or titles of most of the tracks. However, it was hard to deny the beats weren’t infectious, much less that the lyrics, especially compared to a lot of what we are given in modern rap, are on an entirely different level. To the point where, by the film’s end, there isn’t much of a need to tell us how rich and famous Dre and Ice Cube got, for just what is presented in the movie fully showed why they are legends.
What the movie fails to do, for me anyway, is show you the emotional impact of living the lives the members of NWA did. For while we get to see the frustration of cop harassment, while we see tears being shed as people die, there is something about the performances of the cast which don’t make you share a moment of tears. For despite us learning Dr. Dre’s little brother dies, or seeing Eazy-E die, there isn’t that emotional build, or connection, which grabs a hold of you and makes you react like perhaps you should.
Though the issues don’t end there. As is slightly hinted at, but never gone fully into, there were always a gratuitous amount of women around the members of NWA, and they were misogynist to a bit. However, you don’t see much, or hear much, which would make any of the members seem more than like how frat boys would be portrayed. I mean, considering the issues of domestic violence when it comes to the members, especially Dr. Dre who is portrayed in such a way where you can’t say he is anything but likeable, the creative license used seems to make it so this film isn’t so much a biopic based off facts, but more so an agreed upon retelling of tent pole moments with detracted facts which negatively affect those featured, and embellished moments for the sake of entertainment.
Overall: TV Viewing
While the film is certainly too grandeur to seem like something VH1 would produce as an original movie, all the flashiness, nudity, and jokes, don’t necessarily elevate this film into something which should be taken as a serious movie. For with so much nudity that this damn near seems like the softcore porn HBO and Cinemax have late at night, with a better story, and it seeming that none of the NWA members are ever taken to task for their less than scrupulous past, to truly call this a biopic would be a bit of a joke.
With that said, though, it is a very entertaining movie and does remain consistently engaging over its two-hour length. Something which cannot be said for too many films. However, being that the film tries to rewrite history by making it seem NWA was just a bunch of young man whose lives were about getting laid, money, making music, and dealing with police harassment, it becomes far too difficult to say this is Worth Seeing. Hence the TV Viewing label for the movie does hold far too much back and being that the emotional scenes don’t hit you hard in the gut, Straight Outta Compton just ultimately seems like a TV movie which had the type of budget hardly any network would ever approve for the subject matter.