There’s a scene in Straight Outta Compton when an officer brashly utters the words; ‘rap is not an art,’ to the face of Jerry Heller, former manager of N.W.A. Meanwhile, a young Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella balance their chins from touching the pavement; arms locked behind their backs. Their crime? Looking like gangsters.
Gary Gray’s latest directorial role in the biopic Straight Outta Compton tells a tale that isn’t in the least apologetic about the harsh realities behind what created the political monster that was N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude).
You immediately get a sense of the film’s authenticity and careful attention to detail without the layer of sugar coating. From the very start, one of the central members, Eazy-E, enters the picture through the grittiness of a drug deal in a scene that could have easily gone wrong.
Gray’s ability to tap into the nuances of each character’s steady progression without blinders is likely a testament to his own involvement with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. His collective involvement with music videos and the iconic film Friday seeps through each scene, from noticeable mannerisms to dialogue that feels authentically N.W.A.
The ends that justified the means is ultimately what gives Straight Outta Compton its worth in the eyes of those that can claim themselves N.W.A. experts – from the birth of “Fuck The Police” to the heated exchanges that caused members to go their separate ways, it’s the answers to the unanswered or rumoured scenarios that make the film worth its price of admission.
None of this would of course be as convincing if it weren’t for the casting choices who immediately display a rapport for each other much like the group they portray.
From the comedic banter to the moments of sensitivity that many viewers haven’t been exposed to in relation to N.W.A. The decision to use unknown actors in O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) and Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) as the main heads of the group made it easy to believe that they were N.W.A. reincarnated. Lacking the baggage that comes from being type casted from previous roles, their acting ability combined with their hauntingly familiar mannerisms proved to be the right move.
In regular biopic fashion, the film moves along a steady flow, from point A, the idea, to point B, the rise and finally point C, the fall of the group. In between such moments, there’s a constant reminder of the turbulent times that dominated the airwaves and streets during a period where names like Rodney King and events like the LA riots took center stage.
You get to see the intimate reactions, like Eazy-E’s look of amazement upon seeing the jury’s final verdict during the Rodney King trial. Viewers are provided a glimpse at the helplessness of Ice Cube when a cop first utters the word “n*gger” without his provocation, or Dre’s arrest for simply standing still in the face of a demanding officer.
As much as the music remains a vital part of what will draw in many fans to this film, it’s the underlying messages and glimpses into these characters that will prove the most fruitful in the film, and thankfully Straight Outta Compton doesn’t shy away from going there. Its international stage can hopefully provide yet another form of dialogue for a need to speak out in favour of expressing oneself.
Photos courtesy of Jaimie Trueblood (© 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.)