The story bubbling beneath the surface of Straight Outta Compton’s hip hop biopic is as culturally relevant today as it was back in 1986. In 2015, unarmed black people were killed by police nearly twice a week. Madness, right?
Yet sadly it’s nothing new. It’s the backdrop against which the characters – and real life people – of the Straight Outta Compton story forged their paths against law enforcement and against prejudice, catapulting themselves into fame and fortune. Six young Americans (though the film would have you believe only three) formed a rap group whose music would incite a widespread knowledge of the issues which black people were facing daily, and would give the youth of the late ’80s and early ’90s a voice to revolt against hate crime. They were N.W.A.
Cultural relevance is perhaps the reason as to why Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E take most of the spotlight here. They weren’t the only members of the rap group, but they are the members who have left the longest lasting legacy. There may be a bit of historical realignment on display, but it does ensure a lean, tightly constructed and powerful story as a result of focusing on the main players. It’s quite possibly director F. Gary Gray’s (The Negotiator) strongest storytelling so far, eking out an all-round excellent collective cast performance.
Jason Mitchell and Corey Hawkins come out with massively accomplished performances under their belts as Eazy-E and Dr. Dre respectively, but honestly there’s not a bad performance from the lot, and slimy as Paul Giamatti’s band manager Jerry Heller may be, it’s a great deal of fun to see him worming his way in and out of the holes he digs. Both musically and emotionally each of N.W.A’s members are convincing. You believe not only that they are musicians, but that they are musicians with a voice that they are yearning to be heard. Straight Outta Compton is set to an incredible soundtrack, but it’s the political and cultural potency behind the music which packs the biggest punch.
There’s a point in the film where Eazy-E watches the verdict of a trial in which police officers were charged with brutality against a black man. A clear-cut case with a truly unjust outcome. It’s a seemingly small moment, but one which is dramatically charged, beautifully portrayed, and the perfect encapsulation of what Straight Outta Compton is about. Yes, it’s about the rise and fall of N.W.A. But it’s also about fighting for what is right, and what that fight means to those battling at a personal level.
Rating (out of 5):