Confidently and competently directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator, Law-Abiding Citizen), Straight Outta Compton is an entertaining, enlightening, and somewhat educational biopic about the rise to stardom of the infamous gangsta rap group, N.W.A (Niggaz wit' Attitude). Whether history is as true as the events the movie portrays, the motivations of its members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre., and Easy-E are clear-cut and understandable (regardless of your position on such inner-city matters), with performances and moments that make you care about the men and their plights in life and the music industry.
The headlines for the film say it best - "The world's most dangerous times created the world's most dangerous group." N.W.A. wouldn't necessarily be considered rebels of their time, but rather leaders of the opposition produced by a society with circumstances that I could never fully understand. These men were products of their environment, but as Straight Outta Compton portrays, they made something of themselves instead of sitting back and just dealing quietly with their problems. They voiced not words of concern, but words of discern and disdain, fighting against the angry opposition that hindered their way of life. Compton shows how these men came to be as standardized by your typical biopic, but really captures the late 80s time period and look with nostalgic majesty.
Spanning a range of about five years (from 1988-1993), Straight Outta Compton does a fine job of streamlining the events that led to the formation of the band without much surprise, but watching the events unfold is what gives the film its edge and bite. Despite not being much of a fan of the "gangsta rap" scene, I still found the music tightly mixed and entertaining. Particular scenes, especially involving Detroit Police warning N.W.A. not to sing certain songs (especially "Fuck the Police") lead to some amusing results. Again, you don't have to agree with the things they say or the actions they perform with their music, but the film gives you an opportunity to understand them. Sometimes making an audience understand is more important, and that's exactly what this film does.
Some events and people from the early 90s rap music scene are introduced and brushed over (Tupac and Snoop Dogg, to name a couple), with images used to give motivation and purpose to the characters (especially with the Rodney King beating, leading into the Los Angeles riots). Despite being over two-and-a-half hours long, Straight Outta Compton actually could have used roughly another ten minutes to allow more buildup to the motivations for the formation of the band. What we get with the film is a couple, somewhat simplistic scenes to get us on the same page as the major three members of the group (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy-E) before E's chance meeting with producer Jerry Heller which led to the production of N.W.A.'s breakout record (for which the film is titled).
Well-acted and well-written with a keen eye on the time period and the tension in the air, Compton is well-paced for the first two-thirds before slowing down and focusing less on the music and more on the fall (and rise again) of particular characters. Surprisingly emotional in parts and funny in others, the film is also a little divisive in its means of portraying its message, which is careful to relate much of the information to today's times and instead allowing the same words to be spoken that were apparent from the band's debut album. Straight Outta Compton is a hard film that bites down to the center of the social opposition of the time, and displays the men who rose up from having their faces shoved to the ground.
They had something to say. Straight Outta Compton is it.
On a side note, I have to mention how much I was impressed with the diction apparent to this style of music. You could actually hear and understand the words they were saying, compared to the bullshit I hear from today's "hip hop" nightclub scene that is at the pinnacle of popularity. Compared to today's "hip hop" scene, where it feels to me that only a small handful of "artists" actually have a voice based in some history and not just on getting into nightclubs, the "gangsta rap" genre seemed to actually have a grounded purpose, created mostly by musicians who wanted to express music that meant something real and raw. Their music was like inner-city poetry, rife with vulgarity and balls, and not just three repeated lines on auto-tune. For that I can appreciate it.