To put the bottom line at the top here: I came straight outta the movie theater last weekend thoroughly entertained by this N.W.A biopic. At least on a popcorn movie level. What served me and my unfettered enjoyment going in is the acknowledgment of the inherent nature of the biopic. Firstly, you can’t effectively distill 29 years – or in the case of the movie’s timeline, a dozen years or so – into a 2.5 hour movie. Even in trying to include as many key moments as possible, a great deal of the “bio” aspect is going to be left on the cutting room floor, if shot at all. Secondly, this is not a documentary, it’s a Hollywood movie with a story, a screenplay, actors and a director (among countless other collaborators and interested parties), which means a plot of the story that is inspired by real-life and real events has to be agreed upon by the respective powers-that-be before the green light can be lit.
Given those two elements, there’s naturally going to be some concerns with the timeline of events (which obviously gets condensed for movie storytelling purposes) as well as whose perspective of the “truth” ultimately gets presented (NOTE: Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are listed as co-producers and there were reportedly some disagreements on an agreed upon “truth” during the arduous pre-production period). So with those two things firmly in mind, I went in with the purpose of being entertained rather than getting informed, since I already knew at minimum 95% of the larger story anyway, and I also didn’t go in expecting the film to present a mosaic point of view that would peer into every nook and crevice to fill in all the gaps within the story. Again, that’s what comprehensive documentaries are for, not Hollywood theatrical biopics. We’ve all seen these types before. These feature films exist as more of a Cliff’s Note, carefully packaged for easy consumption by the masses for two-hour or so escape.
I am a serious docu-junkie, so to ESPN’s Bomani Jones’ point: yes, I would have rather had a documentary that digs deeper and includes all minutia, plus all those ugly things that existed under the rocks, but that’s not what this is so neither I nor you nor the masses should have expected it. Straight Outta Compton is a well-crafted movie with some really nice performances in a story told with a dramatic and socially-conscious (and unfortunately timely) lens. Agile direction by F. Gary Gray of a smart script that’s definitely helped by the sharp casting.
Newcomer O’Shea Jackson, Jr. played his father Ice Cube perfectly and definitely up a few notches from his father’s first acting turn as Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood. The other great portrayal, if arguably the film’s best performance, was Jason Mitchell’s, the fairly new-to-the-game actor as Eazy E. Also strong was Corey Hawkins’ performance as Dr. Dre. This trio was defined well as: the streetwise poet, the streetwise business man (though the movie downplayed his visionary status), and the dreamy, ambitious and goal-driven music producer. With the focus being on these three main players, the roles ofM.C. Ren (portrayed by Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) are unfortunately relegated as secondary/support status, though they were also cast well. Surprisingly the cameos of Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, both portrayed by even lesser-knowns, were very faithful, which helped keep their sidebar inclusion from seeming superfluous (given the timeline faux pas). R. Marcos Taylor inhabited the alpha dog role of Suge Knight with the required gravitas and command. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul Giamatti’s strong yet nuanced embodiment of former N.W.A. manager and Ruthless Records co-owner Jerry Heller who was essentially the story’s main villain.
As I stated above, as a Hollywood movie Straight Outta Compton delivers the essentials of what you would want from a movie of its kind — it was really cool to see the guys I’d been into so much as a teenager realized on the big screen in such an artful way. Since it’s not a full-bodied real-life docudrama there’s no point in judging it as such. Though had it been, yes, of course it would be totally fair to call the movie out for its egregious lack of certain events and details, such as the more potent nature of the group’s (and the culture’s) misogyny and some of the altering of the chronology of events. Yet as merely a Hollywood move, I’d give it an A-.