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Straight Outta Compton - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Straight Outta Compton
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

I couldn’t say what most people expected from Straight Outta Compton, but presumably not that it winds up being a bit of a tearjerker. That’s a surprise. Or that, at times, it’s bizarrely like a reality-soap opera, just featuring a bunch of justifiably pissed off black guys. This could have been called The Real Rappers of Compton. Admittedly Straight Outta Compton has a far better ring to it.

This is a transparently imperfect movie, easy to pick apart if you get too deep into the details. The dialogue often feels more scripted than authentic, eliciting skepticism that these guys really talked, and sometimes even behaved, this way. Such is the nature of turning a true story into a movie, sure: Hollywood tropes creep in. Much has been made of this movie conveniently ignoring the women Dr. Dre beat the shit out of; the closest it gets is an offhand reference to assault charges. That's not the story this movie is telling, though. It is a story perhaps someone else should tell. That said, there are nearly zero women characters of any substance -- the one possible exception being, somewhat ironically, Dr. Dre's mother. For the most part women in this movie serve as often-topless window dressing. In all likelihood, that's an accurate reflection of these men's real lives. There is a fun moment when someone says "Bye, Felicia" to . . . a woman named Felicia. Naturally, Felicia is also topless and has no lines.

Something about all this, however, taps into what Straight Outta Compton gets right. It keeps its focus on one issue, which is police brutality and harassment as a catalyst for the 80s rap group N.W.A. Domestic violence is another issue every bit as worthy of examination, but a story needs focus, and that's not the point of this story. This is about how speaking out against police injustice galvanized a group of young men into revolutionizing a music genre still in its infancy, before fame and excess turned them on each other.

And that's the thing about this movie: it has import, the likes of which nothing else currently in theaters does. It has something meaningful to say, about music history, about American history, about how things were then and how things sadly remain today. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, the timing of this film's release could not be more poignant.

The film opens effectively, and memorably, with a level of violence not seen again but offering a brief bit of context for the anger reflected in those late-eighties rap songs. A drug raid on a house in a residential neighborhood results in chaos and a striking amount of fatality. A narrow escape precedes the title card -- you know the one, fueling one of the dumbest memes in recent memory.

This is the way of life in Compton, we are immediately shown. Later a young man merely leaves a house to cross the street to go home, sees police frisking neighbors, and finds himself thrown against a car for doing nothing more than passing by. And this is a movie, remember; something that, when done correctly, reflects life but distills it. When it comes to the real world, this is just the tip of the iceberg. This young man and his friends go on to record the notorious single "Fuck the Police," about which people with no connection to the world these men live in make sanctimonious moral judgments. As the single fuels their rise to success, even the FBI sends a letter of warning.

This is a lot of ground to cover. I haven't even gotten to Ice Cube's departure from N.W.A and their ensuing rivalry and lyrical posturing; Paul Giamatti's turn as manipulative and corrupt music manager Jerry Heller; or Easy E's contraction of HIV and subsequent death of AIDS. All are intimately related to this group of guys' relationships with each other and how N.W.A. was formed, fractured, and followed by at least a degree of reconciliation. The script, in spite of occasionally contrived dialogue, weaves it all together impressively.

But it's the editing that makes or breaks any movie, and in this case it really makes it. Straight Outta Compton goes on for nearly two and a half hours, covers a full decade, and somehow avoids the pitfalls of most biopics that attempt to cram too much into too small a time frame. The actors here, across the board -- and there's a lot of them -- offer nuance that renders the movie as provocative as it is hugely entertaining, showcased perfectly by the finesse in which the scenes unfold.

Should I even mention the music? I'm not even a particular fan of rap, although I can appreciate the artistry particularly from its early days. Much is made of written rhymes, and it's too bad no direct credit is ever given to whoever were the great musicians who wrote the actual music. Hip hop has had decades to become over-commercialized just like any genre, but this movie represents a time when things were far from that point. Anyone with even a passing appreciation for late-eighties and early-nineties rap and hip hop is going to love this soundtrack.

Straight Outta Compton may not be perfect, but a compelling story is all that truly matters, and it's got that in spades. It could have been a whole lot like a whole lot of other movies, and it just isn't, because it's about more than the music, or the people who created it. It's about who we are as a country, and how this country made those people. It's in a class of its own. It demands to be seen.

Corey Hawkins, Neil Brown Jr., Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins are varied levels of being STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.

Overall: A-
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