Straight Outta Compton
dir F Gary Gray
scr Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
prd Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Tomica Woods-Wright, F Gary Gray, Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Bill Straus
with O'Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti, R Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr, Keith Stanfield, Carra Patterson, Alexandra Shipp, Keith Powers
release US 14.Aug.15, UK 28.Aug.15
15/US New Line 2h27
Straight Outta Compton
Gangsta Gangsta: Hodge, Hawkins, Mitchell and Jackson

hawkins giamatti cube
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Straight Outta Compton Like a Lifetime movie, this biopic of groundbreaking rappers NWA seems to have been written with a checklist of important events that had to be covered. Thankfully, it's made to a very high standard, with striking performances from the young actors in the lead roles.

In late-80s South Central Los Angeles, Eazy-E (Mitchell) launches Ruthless Records with manager Jerry Hiller (Giamatti) to release music made with his pals Ice Cube and Dr Dre (Jackson and Hawkins), as well as DJ Yella and MC Ren (Brown and Hodge). Their first album Straight Outta Compton goes multi-platinum without any radio play due its controversial, strongly worded lyrics. But Cube is annoyed that Jerry won't pay him properly, so he embarks on a successful solo career. And later Dre leaves to start Death Row Records with the hothead Suge Knight (Taylor).

Every sequence in the film features a fracture in the friendship, growing tensions, verbal/musical lashings and physical violence. These are alpha-males who they find it difficult to trust each other. And they probably shouldn't, since most have a history of violence, drugs or financial mismanagement. Even if their clashing bravado begins to feel repetitive, the fireworks are colourful. And there moments of deep emotion too, although the movie skims over their personal relationships. Women are portrayed essentially as bling.

While the script centres on Eazy-E, it's Cube an Dre who dominate the film. Jackson and Hawkins give ripping performances as thoughtful, smart young men expressing themselves about the injustices of daily life. By contrast, Mitchell's Eazy seems a bit hapless, while Brown's Yella and Hodge's Ren blend into the crowd of hangers-on. Taylor's Knight adds a touch of thuggish nastiness, and Giamatti is fine in his usual role.

Tighter focus on fewer people and a shorter time period might have made this film stronger. Still, this is a powerful depiction of artists struggling to emerge from an oppressed subculture. And the timing of its release adds a proper kick, as police brutality is again in the headlines. So NWA's notoriously iconic track F*** tha Police, an impassioned rant against racist cops, feels as relevant now as it did during the Rodney King case. By putting the songs so sharply into context, the film reminds us how revelatory they still are.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 19.Aug.15

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