Raw Entertainment Magazine Movie Review Straight Outta Compton
I have seen many biographical films about artists in the music biz, many of them were really good, while others were just ok. The only problem with these type of films, is that they are limited to 1-1/2 to 2 hours to tell the whole story. Often times that is not enough, so unless you know the backstory, you’ll miss out on some of the nuances of the film.
Straight Outta Compton, which opened August 14, does not escape this pitfall, but it is an excellent film that stands on its own. This is the story of N.W.A., who rose to stardom by creating a unique sound, with in-yo-face lyrics that made people take notice.
The lead roles of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E were performed by relatively unknowns; O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell respectively. Dr. Dre said in an interview that they wanted “New talented black artists, as they did not want to get the typical black actors who are doing their thing. It would feel funny, and possibly, a little fake.”
They hit a home run with the casting, as these young artists hit the nail on the head, especially Mitchell, who’s interpretation of Eazy-E was authentic, dynamic, and totally believable. I felt like I was actually watching Eazy-E on the screen.
Hawkins actually resembles a young Dr. Dre, and being a Juilliard trained actor, he takes the role and makes it his own. Jackson, Ice Cube’s son, also turns in a good debut performance as an actor. It helps to have the DNA of the person you are playing, but this was not handed to him. It is evident that Jackson studied and worked on this role, one that made the elder Ice Cube proud.
F Gary Gray, the director, said in an interview that they had three and a half hours of footage, and they had to cut it down to a more reasonable length. You cannot include everything, but they captured the main idea, or vibe to make this film a successful one.
I mentioned the idea of the backstory earlier, and because I was working in the music business at that time, I understood the film in ways that the average moviegoer who does not know that backstory, will not.
Here is some information that will fill in a few of the blanks.
A scene early in the film depicts Dre and DJ Yella working at Lonzo’s (Alonzo Williams) nightclub. Lonzo was a former DJ who recruited Dre and Yella and formed the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. In 1996, they had a huge hit with “Turn Out The Lights,” with guest vocals by Michel’le. I think this important, because the N.W.A. record was not the first record that Dr. Dre was a part of.
Later in the film, Ice Cube left the group due to issues with Jerry Heller, and there was a short scene where he is in the studio recording his debut solo album. It is important to know that the producers in that recording studio was the Bomb Squad. Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Chuck D, Eric Sadler and Gary G-Whiz. The Bomb Squad has produced many hits over the years, but they are best known for producing the seminal group, Public Enemy. This is key, because Cube purposely wanted a production style that was literally 3000 miles away from Southern California. The Bomb Squad was an east coast production outfit.
As far as the music in the film is concerned, the N.W.A. tracks were featured heavily throughout, but songs by George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic were also a welcomed addition. The George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic group are one of the most sampled in Hip Hop history, and funk like this can be heard in all of Dre’s production efforts.
Overall, Straight Outta Compton is a film that will entertain and educate, as it provides some insight on the cultural climate of the time, something that no history book will be able to communicate. I definitely recommend it.