O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Jason Mitchell Are Among Breakout Stars in Very Thrilling and Moving, N.W.A. Biopic, Straight Outta Compton

Explosive and straight to the gut, Straight Outta Compton is more than just your normal rap or even music biopic. As it tells the tale of not only the rise of one of the most influential groups in rap and music history, N.W.A. It also tells the story of how the self-proclaimed, “The World’s Most Dangerous Group” goes through so many trials and tribulations everyone goes through in life, which also led to it’s eventual downfall almost a full decade later.

This story about the many influences of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella is so brilliantly captured from the very opening scene of the film so vividly by director F. Gary Gray. As he takes you back to 1986 in the small South Central Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton, the group would later make famous worldwide and captures the audience from the jump of the film with Eric Wright (later known as Eazy-E) making: The Drug Deal Gone Wrong. One we have seen in so many movies it almost becomes tiresome at times, but Gray gets this right by making it thrilling to the point where it captures the audience and makes them want to see more cause they see a deal between friends go wrong because of the circumstances and desperation, not greed. It works because the dialogue of seeing Eric scrambling out a window and over a few fences, after the LAPD shows up and literally knocks down the door is somewhat funny, but also precise and distinctive enough to make you want to keep watching.

The action in just those first few minutes makes you know you are in for a good movie, which is something you rarely see with most music biopics. Gray let’s you know right away that you are in for not only one of the best musical biopics you ever seen, but one of the best movies you have seen all year or in recent years. That’s thanks in large part also to the great ensemble cast of Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella playing their characters to near perfection and really bringing them to life on screen. Not to mention three of the producers of the film: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Tomica Woods-Wright (Eazy-E’s widow) having a large say in what went into the final cut of the movie as well. Whereas most musical biopics subjects are dead or don’t have a say in their films, which makes it harder to really capture their stories so well.

Straight Outta Compton, as you would expect focuses a good portion on the creation of the group’s critically acclaimed groundbreaking debut album of the same name. It also tells a lot in the first half of the film about some of the many small things that a lot of the general public may not have known such as Dr. Dre being an up-and-coming DJ at a nightclub in Compton for Alonzo Williams, where Dre and DJ Yella for many of their early years DJed for a measly $50 a night. It was around this time that Dre first met Eazy-E, whom he wanted to persuade to funnel some of his drug-dealing profits into a new record label, which would become Ruthless Records. We are first introduced not long after this time to a young Cube, who on the school bus is seen writing rhymes that would eventually become Eazy-E’s solo debut hit, Boyz-N-the-Hood. Originally intended for Ruthless signees H.B.O. (who lived in Orange County but were originally from Brooklyn), they made it a big East Coast-West Coast thing and wouldn’t record it. Thus having Dre and Cube convince Eazy record it, which he didn’t want to do at first.

Two of the more brilliant scenes from the film are: when taking a break from recording the album the group is standing outside the studio in Torrance, California and some local police roll up to make accusations to start trouble. Both cops shake down the young men and denigrate the very existence of rap music, while Paul Giamatti who plays the group’s manager and Ruthless co-founder, Jerry Heller, tries to intervene to actually fight for what the group is doing being actual art. A quick cut then has the group recording what would become it’s most controversial provocative record, Fuck tha Police. A record that caused even more controversy when they received a letter from the F.B.I. saying how the song encouraged violence and disrespect for law enforcement and thus promoters started saying the could no longer perform it on their tour. Things finally came to a head in Detroit where they were told if they performed it they would be arrested. They did anyways and the concert was stopped after two loud booming noises were heard and everybody ran backstage after the cops rushed the stage. A riot ensued and the rest of the tour was subsequently cancelled.

Jackson Jr. (Cube’s actual son) really evoked his father’s tough-guy charisma for the role and had it down so perfectly you almost thought you were really watching a young Cube again. This is especially true after Cube left the group because he wasn’t paid properly for his contributions to the group, so we went solo. Then after still not being paid properly by Priority Records for the success of his solo debut he came in angrily smashing the plaques, glass and furniture in the office. Thus leading to Cube finally getting what he wanted before Priority Records executive Bryan Turner played him part of N.W.A.’s new immediately released EP, 100 Miles and Runnin’ where they attacked him and lead to Cube’s classic diss record, No Vaseline. Jackson’s remarkable performance throughout the film and especially in the live performance aspects that are so authentic you almost feel as if you are watching a documentary are by far one of the highlight’s of the film.

Only Mitchell’s spot on performance of the charismatic and charming E come off better in the film. Mitchell really makes you feel as if you are watching Eazy all over again with his ultimately heartbreaking performance. The way he evokes this so throughly in the recording of tracks like “Boyz” and his complicated relationship with the Heller character make his performance so spot on that you almost feel as if Eazy was resurrected from the dead and is smiling down on the amazing performance put on by Mitchell. There’s even some sad tear jerking spots you wouldn’t expect when you see Eazy’s character in his last days in the hospital after contracting the AIDs virus that eventually killed him. As a human even if you already know the eventual faith of Eazy and the ending of the movie you can’t help but shed a few tears when you see these last scenes of the movie.

Especially in it first happening right in the studio right when the group of Yella, Ren and Eazy-E begin to work on what was supposed to be part of the new N.W.A. reunited material that was supposed to be started to record and released with Cube and Dre back involved. E collapses in that February 1995 session that lands him in the hospital right before the group was about to get back together only to see E’s ultimate saddened faith and state. The last scenes evoke how everybody handles the certainty of death differently too. As all of the members had emotional visits with Eazy-E before his March 26, 1995 death. Dre’s and Cube’s being the most noteworthy, as Dre was able to see E one last time, but Cube said he couldn’t go into the room to see E in that state of demise.

In an ultimately very great biopic the only downside that really keeps it from being such a classic as previous musical biopics like Ray, Selena, Cadillac Records and Walk The Line is that there is to much jumpacked into the final 30-45 minutes or so. Which obviously could’ve been used for another film or just make the film longer. With that said it’s still a very great biopic that could generate Oscar buzz with how well it was still done and is a must see for not only fans of N.W.A. and Hip-Hop, but great music and biopics in general.

(Note this review was actually first written and meant to be published around last Aug. or Sept. when the movie first came out, but somehow got lost in the site’s bulk posts that were never published)