That was an ingenious marketing campaign that the makers of “Straight Outta Compton” put together over the last year. Seriously, just when you thought NWA’s music was outdated, that all the “F—k Tha Police” stuff didn’t mean anything anymore, then you get Ferguson, you get Staten Island, you get Baltimore, and now there’s a new story every day.
“Straight Outta Compton” tells the tale of the band that told you 25 years ago what you’re seeing in the news today was going on then, had been going on for years, and was going to be going on for as long as we can see into the future.
And by and large, it tells it honestly, warts and all, and the story of NWA has plenty of warts. “Straight Outta Compton” gives us the origin story, with Easy-E (Eric Wright, played by Jason Mitchell) using money made as a drug dealer to finance the first NWA record, “Boys N The Hood,” produced by Dr. Dre (Andre Young, played by Corey Hawkins), a club DJ who wanted to do more than spin Top 40.
Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) was the conscience of the group, which got its footing in the business with the teaming of Easy-E and manager Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti). The group aspires to make tapes for the ‘hood, but things get real big real fast, and the resulting growing pains tear NWA apart just as it begins to explode on the mainstream music scene.
The tensions first split Cube from the family, then Dre, who partners with Suge Knight (played by R. Marcos Taylor), leading to dis records that make the best that Drizzy and Meek Mill can scheme up look like Nick Jr. (the treatment in “Straight Outta Compton” of Cube’s “No Vaseline” is a proper rendering of the gold standard in dis tracks).
We then get cameos from a young Snoop Dogg (played by Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (who I swear was played by the actual Tupac, but since he’s supposedly dead, was credited as Marcc Rose), though we miss on seeing the origin of Eminem (who appears as himself in an interview clip in the closing credits).
It’s fun as a fan seeing the backstory to classics like “Boys N The Hood,” the mixed reactions that “F—k Tha Police” stirred up, how Dre, Cube and E shrewdly played the controversies to their benefit.
It was equally sad to see how success tore guys who made it straight outta Compton together apart, and sadder when you realize that the way the story is told (in the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, directed by F. Gary Gray), it wasn’t really anybody’s fault, that it was basically inevitable.
Warts and all, including Easy-E’s demise from HIV, just as he was working to reunite NWA, sans Heller, sans Knight.
That’s where “Straight Outta Compton” leaves us, and the credits roll with clips of E, Dre and Cube in their younger days, and what Dre and Cube went on to do after NWA, without the pat on the back that you might expect for the I told you so quality to the music that made them famous.
This movie is a history 25 years old, and it feels like current events, largely because it is, and it’s right there that makes this the most powerful movie you will see this year.
– Review by Chris Graham