There are many reasons a film can be a hit at the box office. Sometimes quality wins out and through reviews and word of mouth, people go to see it. Bad films can be hits too because the promotion manages to appeal to just enough of our base instincts to get us in the seats. Sometimes, it can be because the film resonates with the public at just the right time. Maybe something happens in the news which triggers something in our minds and by a fluke of God, the film comes out at the right time. That was how Straight Outta Compton got popular, but did the film deserve it?
After years of managing to survive in one of the most dangerous places in America, ‘Eazy-E’ (Jason Mitchell, Contraband), ‘MC Ren’ (Aldis Hodge, Leverage), ‘Dr. Dre’ (Corey Hawkins, Non-Stop), ‘DJ Yella’ (Neil Brown Jr., Fast & Furious) and ‘Ice Cube’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr., First Feature Film) decide to combine their acts and release a new single as the N.W.A. They then get heard by music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, Sideways) who then signs them up. They then become one of the most popular, and controversial, acts in the U.S.
Now the timing of this film’s release was incredible. The N.W.A’s rise to popularity was down to their anti-establishment sentiment, especially in terms to the police. Just as this released in the summer, huge protests were going on about the police shooting unarmed black men, showing that the N.W.A’s lyrics have just as much relevancy today as they had back in the 1980s. And the film does very well in showing the abuse they got from the police and why they would write some of their more controversial films. The police are depicted here as the most racist morons in the world and if we didn’t know what happened in real life, you’d call it out for being too cartoonish. My only disappointment with is that they don’t go far enough with it. After a stunning scene at a Detroit concert, the only mention of the police’s institutional racism is an obligatory mention of the L.A riots, which they don’t do much with.
And credit to the relatively unknown cast for putting in some great performances as the most iconic rappers in history. The highlight of the film is Jason Mitchell is Eazy-E, which is a damned tough role because you are stretched to do every emotion in the book, and Mitchell manages to pull it off. His anger feels raw and not manufactured like in some other films, and he does really engage you in his plight of trying to balance not selling out after getting rich and enjoying his fame and riches. And I was really surprised at how good O’Shea Jackson Jr was. He is Ice Cube’s son, so the whole casting smacks of nepotism but he rises above it to put in a great performance.
I have to mention the music, which is done brilliantly. Even if you aren’t into the politics of the N.W.A, you can get into the music and it’s simply because you can feel the love that the director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) has for the music. He makes the concerts so visually appealing and the music will pop right out of your speakers. It helps that the music is some of the best rap can offer and as I said above, the lyrics are still massively relevant. Clint Eastwood, this is what you should have done for Jersey Boys instead of skimming past the music like the bickering was more interesting.
Unfortunately, I do have to bring up the rampant sexism in the film. I can understand why there may be very little female characters, but I can’t forgive the way this film treats woman in general. The best depictions of women are when they are simply telling their husbands what they should next, basically just being a prop tool. At worst, they are pure sex objects. The camera leers them at such an ugly way the only person who’d approve is Michael Bay and most of the women in the film are topless and the only reason they are is because we men like it better that way. Because of the sexism, it sort of devalues a lot of the good points the film makes on racism. After all, when the film is being discriminatory, why should we listen to it when it preaches about discrimination?
And when you do the slightest piece of research on this film, any trust you had in the film evaporates. There’s minor things which you can maybe understand like reducing MC Ren to a background role when he was one of the more influential figures, but then there is the stuff where they completely get rid of one of the founding members of the N.W.A for reasons I’m not sure of. The most disturbing omission is how Dr. Dre’s well documented abusive relationships are completely cut, instead aiming to make Dre look like a martyr for question the violence Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor, Dead Man Down) commits at Death Row Records. This is always going to be an issue when the people producing the film are depicted in it, they are always going to rewrite history to make themselves look better.
Straight Outta Compton has some fantastic moments and has a lot of things to say about racial relationships and freedom of speech which are still relevant in 2016. But then there are moments when the film is hypocritical by demoting women to a role where they are only remembered if they show off their breasts and by cutting things out that would make their main characters look bad. It’s worth watching because the direction of F. Gary Gray is brilliant, but this is no way is a factual representation of the N.W.A’s rise to popularity.