Monday, April 25, 2016

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

So, the time had finally come for me to watch the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. What took me so long? It wasn't as if I didn't have the opportunity to see this movie, but it's that I didn't trust it enough to see it in theaters. Instead, I waited until it was on demand at $1.99 before I was comfortable enough seeing it. Now that I've watched it, I'm glad I did. It was a really good biopic and interesting story.

Biopics on musical artists make me nervous because they always tend to focus on the negative aspects of their career so much so that it becomes the main focus of the story and the film, pushing the musical accomplishments to the background. The Ray Charles biopic, Ray is the perfect example of this. They beat you over the head with his drug use and infidelity that it was almost unwatchable for me, and when it was finished, I didn't learn anything about Ray Charles the artist or any insight to how created his music. All learned was that he used drugs and slept with a lot of women. I didn't need a movie to tell me a music star uses drugs and likes to sleep with women. Thanks though.

However, I wasn't really worried so much about those things with Straight Outta Compton as I was more worried about the actual story, ever since I learned that Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were producers on the film. That immediately raised a warning flag for me. When artists have control over their own biopic it, at more times than not, becomes the story they want to tell as opposed to what actually happened. When the trailers for the film were released, that's exactly what the movie looked like to me. It looked like a film that was padding the egos of the two main characters of the movie, Cube and Dre. But after watching it, I stand corrected. Thank God I was.

Here's what I liked about the movie. The story was sound, the characters well casted and nothing seemed over the top and outlandish. The story line was fluid and the timeline made sense. There wasn't a lot of jumping around, no flash backs or flash forwards. It was easy to follow and fairly accurate, aside from the highly publicized omission of Dre's violence against women. It kept the group the center of the film's focus and promoted the music and its impact justly, proving once again that you don't need to focus on the negative aspects of a musician to carry the film. N.W.A. was an aggressive hip hop outfit that got in its fair share of trouble and the film portrayed that, but it never overtook the film or overshadowed the musical side of things. It never overtook Dre's motivation to become successful, or Cube's insistence on a fair shot at success or his credit as a formidable MC. It showed the rift that occurred within the group, the sides that were taken and it seemed to be fair with Eazy E, creating him as the one undercutting his group mates only to show him apologetic and sincere later in the film.

The film showed the before and after N.W.A. pretty well too, with Cube embarking on his solo career and how his success bothered the rest of the group. I loved how the film highlighted Cube's diss track "No Vaseline" (one of the greatest diss tracks of all time) and how even N.W.A. knew Cube got 'em with that track. It showed the beginnings of Death Row Records with Dre collaborating with Suge Knight and the makings of his seminal work The Chronic, along with Dre getting tired of all the shenanigans surrounding Death Row and him being pulled to start his own label, Aftermath. It mentioned Eazy's work with Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony.

What I didn't like about the film was how in depth they went with Dre's experience at Death Row records. That was where I saw the film padding Dre's ego and legacy. Also, I didn't think it was necessary in telling the story of N.W.A. I'm not suggesting omitting it entirely but you didn't need the side characters of Snoop Dog or Tupac being introduced into the film. We didn't need to actually see all the craziness at Death Row, the parties, the drugs, the violence. We didn't need to see Dre take the police on a high speed chase. This extra "stuff" directly contributed to the film being two and a half hours long. It didn't add anything to the story of N.W.A, it just simply showed what Dre did after he left.

Also, after watching the movie it didn't tell me anything more about MC Ren and DJ Yella. It portrayed them as less important members of the group, and after Cube and Dre left and Eazy was losing control of Ruthless Records, you were never given an opportunity to learn how they felt about things. You got a sense they remained loyal to Eazy during this time, especially when he was diagnosed with HIV, but there was no insight into how they viewed Dre or Cube's leaving the group. Would've been nice to learn a little more about the less recognizable members of N.W.A. for those who might not know much about them.

Overall, it was a really good and well made film and I'm glad I watched it. It exceeded my expectations as far as biopics are concerned. The film makers didn't fall into the usual trappings of biopics and kept the music and the group the main focus of the film and didn't stray too far. I would recommend seeing this film if you haven't already.

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