NWA was the pivotal rap group in the late 80’s to mid 90’s that created the sound of the generation. Straight Outta Compton attempts to tell their story from their roots in Compton to their eventual and inevitable break up.
The members of NWA that the film follows are MC Ren, DJ Yella, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but the story primarily focuses on the latter three and the disagreements that led to NWA’s demise. Simultaneously, Straight Outta Compton examines the societal landscape and cultural turmoil happening at the time that led to the voices of NWA being heard and celebrated.
The sheer volume of narrative that needs to be told in the film is gargantuan. Unfortunately for the screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, they are not successful and the whole story feels like a Wikipedia version of NWA. A film of this size should reveal some additional unknown information or motivation, and it fails to do so. Further the constant contemplation upon the LA riots and that time period feels overly forced to reflect our current situation, a heavy handed and unnecessarily graceless approach.
The other greatest criticism is its dollar store approach to the costume and hair design on the film. Perhaps it is because the 90’s weren’t that long ago that those alive recall the style and fashion, but it’s pretty abominable in Straight Outta Compton. None of the actors look to be comfortable in their garbs and the limited diversity in outfits leads the audience to believe each character only had one costume each. The whole look of the time created in Straight Outta Compton is immediately off-putting and difficult to get past.
The film isn’t all bad, and the best decision the filmmakers made was to get Ice Cube’s real son to portray Ice Cube in the film. Not only does O’Shea Jackson Jr. look startlingly similar to his father, but his performance is the only complex one. Rather than reverting to a constant scowl and mean mugging the camera, his performance is of a man across many years. O’Shea is the only actor able to rise above his poor costuming and inhabit the role completely, then again, he has had his whole life to observe his father.
The story behind Straight Outta Compton was always going to be a difficult task, but to those aware of the NWA story, it could have been better. In the end, it feels like a highlight reel, glossing over the details to help audiences fully understand the inner-workings of its downfall and the complex happenings between Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. And for a film about a music group, more rap and hip-hop music from the time would have been greatly appreciated.
Straight Outta Compton – Review