Straight Outta Compton movie full length review - A biopic that educates and resonates with some small errors
Biography adapted films are sometimes risky depending on the topic. The biggest risk is making sure that all events related to whomever the biography is about are true.
For this to work there are a couple of factors that need to be considered. First is the time period. Depending on the time period, certain events and facts may be difficult to research. Second are the people being portrayed. For individuals that have never been heard of before, the only way for someone to know how to portray them is by studying records of their behavior and then interpret it themselves. However, for more recent times it has been a lot easier for such access to various information. Then again, there is no greater person to help with this kind of project than the person themselves. Take it from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who produce this movie about themselves, when they went from the bottom straight to the top in the rap group Ruthless & N.W.A.
There really is no better way to make a film about yourself other than directly being involved with it. Then add F. Gary Gray as director with writers Jonathan Herman (his first writing credit) and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center (2006)) and you have a recipe for successful storytelling. It's quite a feat considering only one writer had a credential that showed promise. F. Gary Gray was a nice choice due to his work in other films and his best known film to date being Friday (1995), which also starred Ice Cube. For a biopic on a group of artists, it has a natural tendency to educate audiences (especially the ignorant ones) about why Ruthless & N.W.A. acted the way they did and why they did it. The main plot is about how Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren and Eazy-E rise, fall and recover from their fame after making a name for themselves. Specifically, the music they would create related to the people being oppressed by the police officials in Compton California.
This section of writing is what really the educational part of the story is. As displayed throughout the film, for those who were not aware of the situation going on in California, many considered Ruthless & N.W.A. pimps that glamorized and emphasized the negatives in life. But as clearly stated by one character, "Our art is a reflection of our reality". It does not get any more real than that. Along this being its strongest element, it is also its weakest because that particular social undercurrent is not focused on enough. The rest of writing analyzes the rest of the characters from startup and separation of paths. This is fine and develops its characters, but in some ways it feels like it slights the main point. That's not to say the actors that play the characters aren't noteworthy though. Playing Ice Cube is his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. who can not only act but (thankfully) shares his father's looks as well. Along side Jackson Jr. is Corey Hawkins (as Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (as Eazy-E), Neil Brown Jr. (DJ Yella), and Aldis Hodge (MC Ren). All of which have great chemistry with each other and all act with true emotion.
The only other actor who has almost the same amount of screen time with them is Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, Ruthless & N.W.A.'s first producer. Giamatti as Heller is convincing in his role and does play a significant part in the groups history. The only thing that doesn't look right is Giamatti's horrendous looking wig. It just looks too fake to be his. Couldn't there have been another wig that looked more realistic? And just for fun there are a bunch of other references either to past events or nods to other celebrities. There's (not real) appearances of Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) head of Death Row Records, Tupac (Marcc Rose), Snoop Dog (Keith Stanfield), mentions of Boyz n the Hood (1991) etc. For those who remember those moments and enjoy revisiting the past, the nostalgia will be memorable.
Matthew Libatique is credited as the director of photography for this production. For all of Libatique's camera-work, there's great lighting, and an exceptional demonstration of showing the transitions that went through the artists lives from beginning to the end of the movie. For the scope that the camera captures, ranges. There's a mix of wide panning shots but only to show the scale at which events were occurring. There's also shaky-cam effects, which although aren't welcome most of the time, end up doing okay for the moments that call for them. This usually involves frantic scenes but that's it. The music, of which this biopic is based on definitely has the beats. Although the soundtrack music is mostly lip-synched to the actors, it feels authentic. Joseph Tranpanese composed the film score although there were not a lot of scenes that needed instrumental music. Trapanese just fills in for the sentimental and tense moments. It's the usual cues but all anonymous and that's good since it's a biopic on rap music.
Aside from the writing's initial social undercurrent that is unfortunately let go of over time and Paul Giamatti's awful looking wig, it is a well made film. The actors have authentic chemistry with each other, the music has catchy beats, the camera-work is well lit and a lot of its writing paints an educational picture about the ups and downs of the fame life.