I’ve always been one to take biopic films with a grain of salt. Although enjoyable, sometimes they come off as one-sided stories that make those involved look more polished than they actually are. They conceal their darker pasts—or rather, the reality audiences wouldn’t be so receptive to. Not to mention there’s always going to be someone depicted in the story that steps up to defend themselves and voice their overall dissatisfaction with the way they were portrayed. Former N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller has already stepped forward with this claim, as well as Dee Barnes and Michel’le who have also voiced their own concerns. Despite this, Straight Outta Compton far from falters. The rags-to-riches story of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren and the late Eazy-E is one that doesn’t shy away from early mishaps and issues. It’s a story that not so much remains fixated on the music they created, but focuses on the moments that prompted the self-proclaimed World’s Most Dangerous Group’s daring voices.
The casting for this film is as brilliant as you’d expect, with notable performances from Ice Cube’s son, O’ Shea Jackson Jr., playing Cube himself, and Corey Hawkins portraying the young and ambitious Dr. Dre. Aldis Hodge takes on the role of MC Ren, and Neil Brown Jr. adds great comedic timing as DJ Yella. The role that’s been getting all the well-deserved accolades, however, goes to New Orleans newcomer Jason Mitchell as the iconic Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. Mitchell’s performance provided the film its emotional core as he took us on a journey with Eazy-E’s character. You’ll root for him from the opening scene of a drug distribution gone wrong, to his catastrophic rise as a hip hop pioneer, to his eventual fall. The once hustler went from running the streets to spearheading his own record label with Ruthless Records, and we got a chance to see how he lost himself. Fans will also get a better idea of just how much Suge Knight, eerily portrayed by R. Marcos Taylor, was involved in the group’s disbandment.
Of course, there were others involved as well, such as manager Jerry Heller, played by Paul Giamatti, who isn’t your typical bad guy here. Heller, although portrayed as the scumbag that ultimately drove the crew apart, walks a thin line of caring about the group, while protecting his own money and ultimately driving the wedge between the group members, that ruined their relationship.
Another primary focus throughout the film is police brutality running rampant in the 80’s. We’re given an early glimpse of this when Cube is harassed by the cops just for being outside a friend’s house, and then an even better look later on, when the group takes a recording break outside of their studio only to be violently forced to the ground and treated as if they’ve committed crimes. Both scenes are small pillars for what would later fuel the group’s more aggressive content.
Such is the case with one of the most pivotal scenes from the film, when N.W.A is lectured by the cops before taking the stage in Detroit, Michigan under strict instruction not to play their controversial song “Fu*k The Police.” They rebel and give the crowd what they wanted, anyway. The result? An ensuing riot lands the group in jail. It’s not an issue they’re hung up on, and one they discover will work in their favor and uphold their image as no-holds-barred, hood journalists.
The real take away from the film was how closely police brutality back then mirrors our current time. The writers did an amazing job of allowing viewers to experience both the personal and the worldly struggles the group endured, and how their hardships molded their lives, their music, and their legacy. While I would’ve liked to get to know MC Ren and DJ Yella more, they weren’t the real draw in this film. N.W.A. has now set the tone for gangsta rap for years to come, and re-launched Hollywood’s interest in rap flicks being done the right way.