Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti
Written by: Jonathan Herman, (also story) Andrea Berloff, (story) S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus
Running Time: 147 mins
Release date: 28th August 2015
The surprise smash of the summer has been Straight Outta Compton, the biopic of one of the most notorious and important groups of the 90’s, NWA. SO hopes were high that this was going to give the respect that was due to a band made up of artists who have since moved on to bigger things. Sadly, what we get is half a film that covers the basics and another half that is more interested in contracts.
A group of youngsters, all living in an area of Los Angeles called Compton, having to deal with police harassment and violence, decide the only way out of that life is to explore music. Using the experiences of life on the street, they soon become a voice for a generation, even if their lyrics are not liked by the authorities. It soon becomes apparent that they are naive in the ways of business and as they become increasingly more successful, others start to live off their fame.
NWA may not have been as infamous in the UK as they were in the US, yet their voice, like modern-day protest singers, could be heard around the world. At a heightened time of tension among the police and the black community, they were open about their feelings, their most powerful statement being F*** The Police. Yet F. Gary Gray’s film, which should have mirrored that time, turns slowly into just another generic biopic, in which those who were once friends are split by money and fame.
The general feel of the film is perfectly fine and for the first half, you get the impression that the makers wanted to make a film about how these young men tried to stand up for what they believed in. They lived in constant fear of racism and in brutality among the law, who would stop them just because the way they looked. Yet while it is touched upon, it is never more than that. In a time in which the same thing seems to be happening again in America, this feels like it’s wimping out, afraid not to be too controversial.
The film changes gear for the final hour and a half, with in fighting, contracts and people riding on their coat tails. These moments are far less interesting and even when we get into the period of the Rodney King incident, it too seems to side-step it, becoming factual but never actually making comments. What is does do is show the excesses of fame, mainly in a misogynistic manner, where women are nothing more than sex objects and this comes across as being the norm.
The performances from the young cast of unknown all capture the characters fine. Paul Giamatti plays another dubious music manager (so close after his similar character in Love & Mercy) yet there isn’t any real standout performances. Each plays his part well and there are moments when the friendship comes across brilliantly.
Straight Outta Compton is definitely a could-have-been film. It could have had the same impact as Boyz N The Hood back in the 90’s (incidentally, director John Singleton was lined up to helm this) yet it just seems a little too nervous to tackle the important issues and plays it safe with scenes that we have witnessed time and time again.