The musical biopics of legendary artists typically all tell the same story (Get on Up, Ray). Rap supergroup N.W.A. was never like other legends, so their big-screen bio shouldn’t be, either. Starting with Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s dope-slinging days and ending with his AIDS-related death, Straight Outta Compton pretty comprehensively recounts the watershed moments of gangsta rap’s hard-fought birth via the reality rap of Eazy, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella. Director F. Gary Gray takes an exciting biographical script from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Herman and World Trade Center scripter Andrea Berloff and adds the terrifically accurate casting of Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., as Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dre and Jason Mitchell as the lynchpin, Eazy-E.
At two-and-a-half hours, the film risks tackling too much, spanning the group’s collective and individual achievements from 1986–1996. The Dre-focused ‘92–’96 period, along with cartoonish super villain Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), might be a bit indulgent on the parts of producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. Watching Cube write Friday seems a bit unnecessary and kind of silly, when darker events like Dre’s attack on Dee Barnes get ignored. However, Eazy’s Shakespearean rise and fall, especially his tragic 1995 death at the age of 31, is revelatory unlike any recently acclaimed musical biopic. The constant cop harassment of the early film ensures the film has greater relevance in the midst of the #blacklivesmatter movement.
Still, Straight Outta Compton is one of the year’s strongest films, and it would be extremely rewarding were its deserving major players like Gray, Mitchell, Jackson and more to find themselves in the heat of competition come awards season.
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