Straight Outta Compton (Compton) charts the rise and implosion of hip hop supergroup NWA during the turbulent, racially charged late 1980s and early 1990s in L.A.
Jason Mitchell's Eazy-E is electric. The character has the most room to skate into those grey areas (drug dealing/evading capture by the police) because there's a level of candour that comes with posthumous recreation of his life. Mitchell has to rise to the level of his key counterparts, O'Shea Jackson Jr and Corey Hawkins, who have the additional pressure of having the film producers (or their parent) be the people that they're trying to honour. Hawkins does a great job carrying the weight of Dre and navigating the tragedy of the loss of his brother and the juggling of allegiances in the group. Jackson Jr is simply unbelievable playing his father, Ice Cube. Compton does a Boyhood on your ability discern which is reality or fiction. At his fiercest Jackson Jr taps into that rage that dissatisfaction that is so essential to what made his father's art. It becomes less about portrayal and more about projecting his very genetic make-up to the screen. Bravado, intellect, being willing to say "I don't give a fuck," it's a potent combo. This direct homage to the essence of a time between a father and son is basically unparalleled; Apocalypse Now and Platoon until now have provided the exception.
Director F. Gary Gray's recreation of the L.A Riots in the wake of the deplorable Rodney King verdict is absolutely glorious. E (Jason Mitchell) watches it unfold from his mansion and Cube (Jr) and Dre (Hawkins) ghost through the carnage behind the anonymity of wheel while looting and violence spiral out of control. The transition of police forces into military tactics and finally the poetic unification of the Bloods and Crips bandana joined in defiance is stirring to your very bones. One cannot help but yearn for more of those insane times being the focus of the film but although their music became the battle drums to a social war cry - they weren't activists.
Being a hip-hop fan, but not being someone who curates a 'Tupac Lives' conspiracy blog, means that Compton is a satisfying experience. However, understand that a film that carries the "Produced by: Ice Cube and Dr. Dre" will definitely make for positive portrayals of those characters in the film. In fact, after seeing the film with two huge NWA aficionados, who enjoyed the film immensely, they were the first to point out that that film doesn't descend into the darkness that is widely known about the artists portrayed in the film. There are a plethora of films covering characters on the edge of Compton (Biggie and Tupac, Notorious) that provide insights into the true darkness of real men being portrayed in the film. Compton you could even say, has stoked a fire not only because of how prescient the racial issues are at the moment, but an extremely popular biographical film has reignited the conversation about the obligation of "based on a true story" and a collective audience's willingness/tolerance for omission when it comes to the stories of their heroes.
Straight Outta Compton's intent is to inspire. It's what passion, drive and the grace of luck in a time where a disenfranchised, Reagan era American youth needed to scream at the top of their lungs about living in occupied police-state territory and about socio-political oppression. Gray and company do a good job capturing some of the magic that makes NWA fascinating and relevant to this day.
Blake Howard- follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: F. Gary Gray Written by: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (screenplay/story) [S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus]Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor