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New Release Review - STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

Biopic of controversial hip-hop outfit NWA.



Directed by: F Gary Gray

Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti




"Straight Outta Compton isn’t a great movie, but it has some fine moments, strong character work and performances, and I think it’s going to cement a new layer of cultural awareness for people who may have been out of the loop."






Wow, this is a tricky one. Straight Outta Compton is Universal’s biopic of epochal rap group NWA, and the '90s West Coast hip-hop explosion they helped trigger. It’s been getting great word of mouth, and has been chewing up Instagram with a witty and very memeable viral marketing campaign (memeable is a word now, you heard it here first).
Cards on the table: I all but hate biopics. As a cinematic genre, especially from American studios, they often end up as selective and samey representations of their subjects, like Lives of the Saints. Also, few people’s lives are legitimately interesting or easily encapsulated, at least in filmic terms, so many biopics fall into the trap of trying to present their subjects’ lives within the framework of a moral allegory or some kind of thematic life lesson. That works fine for Forrest Gump but not so well for say, Jerry Lee Lewis, because Forrest Gump’s life is made to measure and has no inconvenient features like willful incest. Biopics don’t have to be like this, of course, they just tend to. What’s left out is often more compelling and troublesome than what is emphasised.
As such, I sat through the first 40 or so minutes of Straight Outta Compton with a furrowed brow, increasingly certain that I was going to get the sanitised version of a very complex and adult set of interlocking stories. This is a long film however and most of what I was squirming against was just first-act scene-setting.
There’s no denying that, formally, Straight Outta Compton is a conventional Hollywood movie of its type but the breadth of the story and the number of characters involved forces the production to build up to some real character drama, based in some rich and compelling material. The highs and lows, the beef and the grief. O’Shea Jackson Jnr gives a particularly compelling and believably outraged portrayal of his own real-life father, Ice Cube. There are some fun easter eggs for fans as we follow his arc in particular, such as the writing of the script for Friday and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from actors representing Public Enemy (somebody make THAT movie please).
Other notable performances include Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E and, my favourite, R. Marcus Taylor as the infamous Suge Knight. Anyone who is familiar with the story of Death Row Records will get a cold little thrill from Suge’s first, very brief introduction to the band, knowing full well what it foreshadows. The film actually spares the audience a full presentation of some of Knight’s greatest excesses, although we get the picture.
I have strong feelings this movie has crossover hit written all over it. Youngsters will sit their elders down to watch this, to explain gangsta rap and why anyone should put up with that swearing, violent imagery, misogyny and homophobia, not to mention all the other markers of distastefully unapologetic Otherness that put some people off Hip Hop as a whole. Their loss.
Straight Outta Compton isn’t a great movie but it has some fine moments, strong character work and performances, and I think it’s going to cement a new layer of cultural awareness for people who may have been out of the loop. Given the frightening racial tensions that are again at large in the United States, it’s an unexpectedly timely film.



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