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(SPOILER FREE) REVIEW: For a lot of viewers, this amazing true story came Straight Outta Nowhere. From the phenomenal opening weekend, it’s clear that many are discovering the legend of influential “reality rap” artists, N.W.A. This hip-hop group formed in the late 80s and changed the face of music forever. Their art was a peaceful protest against their environment, spreading an important message across the world.
With song titles like “F**k the Police”, it’s hard to imagine this message as peaceful. However, those that lived in this community finally had music that spoke to them. For white suburban kids like me hanging out in my treefort in Canada, street violence was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea kids like me were fighting to stay alive. When N.W.A. perforated pop culture, we all knew. Songs like these drew me in with its rebellious attitude and violent lyrics, but it didn’t take long to realize these guys were trying to spread awareness. They were saying it’s not fair that we get treated the way we do, and have to live in the environment we do.
While some had doubts about these young men’s story, they had proof by the time the Rodney King beating was caught on tape. Police brutality was real. Now, that the stage is set, and the proper context is drawn, let’s dig into this movie.
An unknown cast leads the way, greatly benefitting each character. Since we don’t have previous experience with these actors, it’s easier for us to believe them in their roles. They essentially become these characters. Corey Hawkins was scooped away from performing Shakespeare to appear as Dr. Dre (watch him next in the upcoming season of The Walking Dead). There are a couple of heart-breaking sequences were this young actor just swings for the fences. For the movie (some controversial details are completely excised), Dre is presented as the calm and gentle guiding force. He’s the man behind the music, looking for a poet and and an M.C.
Dre finds a poet in Ice Cube (played here by Cube’s actual son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), the joker lyricist. What might sound like a casting gimmick, actually works for this movie. During the energetic concert sequences, his performance really feels authentic. Jackson obviously has the likeness of his father, and that same snarl behind the mic. While these moments are so real it’s surreal, his acting doesn’t quite compare to his (heavy-weight) counterparts.
Allow me to introduce Eazy E (played by Jason Mitchell, appearing next in Kong: Skull Island alongside co-star Hawkins), the gangster turned producer. His story is the most interesting and layered. His performance is also the most interesting and layered. By the end, there are a couple of emotional sequences. Most importantly, Eazy E feels like the pitbull character he should. Most of the time, this character is hard, but when the group mourns the loss of a loved one, Eazy really shines – setting aside machismo for sincere condolences.
The first two acts set the stage brilliantly, with a deliberate pacing. Since there’s so much story to cram into a feature length runtime, it feels like the final act is rushed. This quality is the only negative to this film. This says a whole lot. These characters and their lives are so fascinating the audience demands more. Perhaps the sequel will be called Aftermath (Dre’s label) and follow the rise of hip hop and its mainstream successes?
The real power of N.W.A.’s story is how they overcame incredible odds to become legends. They had to survive their neighbourhood, they had to survive the police, they had to have parents that pushed them to learn, they had to make it to school, they had to meet one another, they had to survive racism, they had to meet an open-minded producer, they had to survive the media’s backlash, and the FBI. The most important obstacle they couldn’t survive was each other. While they went separate ways, they became incredibly successful.
Teens today might only know Dre as the headphones guy, and Cube as the family movie guy, so Compton should be an important eye-opening experience. Watching the rise and fall of NWA is totally captivating. From the commendable direction, to the surprisingly impressive performances from unknown actors, Straight Outta Compton is worth watching for any fan of true stories. While fans of the music will enjoy a ton of Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout, new fans will find the movie just as compelling and thought provoking.
Scene Set-Up: Dre found his songwriter with Cube, he found his producer in Eazy E, now he just needed someone to rap over his beats. Since Cube was part of another group, he couldn’t disrespect them and sing on someone else’s record. That’s when the enthusiastic Dre convinces Eazy to step behind the mic, despite having no experience or talent.
Thus, the legend was born… it just wasn’t that easy.
The Scene: Eazy steps behind the mic to record one of NWA’s most memorable hit songs, “Boyz N the Hood.” For fans, watching Dre compose his irregular beats is something else. There’s a real beauty in watching an artist get inspired and execute their vision. With the beat layed down, and the lyrics written, all that’s missing is the flow. And that’s what makes this Moment so good. Eazy can’t figure out how to attack the song. He doesn’t know the right cadence yet. He stumbles through a few versions. This was hilarious for us fans. It’s like watching the Beatles try and sort out their harmonies… and failing miserably.
Finally, Eazy nails the delivery. The trailer even highlights this Moment too. What we thought was One Take Magic in the recording booth actually took a lot of effort. It’s mesmerizing to watch the behind the scenes process. These performances, and carefully tended direction ensure this Moment lands with the proper impact. The roller coaster ride begins once Eazy E nails those lyrics: “Cruisin’ down the street in my six-four.” That Moment contained all the energy of an action movie car chase or a movie-ending explosion.
It’s incredible to witness what fuels an artist’s passion. It’s incredible to see the obstacles these artists overcame. It’s incredible that despite their dire circumstances, these men still had –fun- together. They just wanted more out of life. This highlight from NWA’s rise to fame exemplifies the power of expression and the culmination of their efforts.