Film Friday: Straight Outta Compton

Photo: Legendary Pictures & New Line Cinema

Please rap the next paragraph to the tune of Straight Outta Compton.

Straight Outta Swissland, crazy writing student, named Finn Boy. From the school called La Chataigneroy. When I get called on, I get stuck on. Mess with the screen that the words get shown on.

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Photo: replygif.net

That is basically what describes my ‘job’ as a writer for The Update. I like to think that I have much in common with the rap group NWA. At least I did, before their biopic (a biographical movie about a famous figure/s) Straight Outta Compton (2015) proved that I am nothing like them.

For those non-dope readers out there, NWA was a rap group in the late 80s consisting of the rappers Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella. They helped reinvent the genre (before hopefully future President Kanye West reinvented it again) and solidified themselves in music history as one of the most controversial, catchy and fire groups of all time. Their songs, despite being made almost 30 years ago, remain (regrettably) relevant to this day.

The biopic spans several years from NWA’s meteoric rise to [SPOILER REMOVED]. It’s first scenes involve the group in Compton, California. These scenes are rough, as is the neighbourhood. Nothing particularly violent is shown, but a bit of intimidation goes a long way. The later scenes are to do with the group having become rich and famous, and how they deal with said fame and wealth (Well, at least how Eazy-E, Dre and Ice Cube deal with it. DJ Yella and MC Ren are introduced and forgotten about, just like real life). The second half is more to do with former Gangstas trying to reform, now that they no longer have a need to be Gangstas.

The writing is pretty dope. The writing team knew the slang of late 80s Compton, but didn’t overindulge themselves. The lines are quick and natural. The characters have a natural back and forth banter that fleshes them out more than any prolonged backstory can. Standout scenes belong to before the group became big, when they’re still struggling in Compton, like one in which the divide between Crips and Bloods (Crips 4 life!!!) is demonstrated by a Blood almost shooting Eazy-E in a school bus. The later scenes, while not presenting as big a platter of catharsis, are nonetheless horrifying, particularly ones involving Dre (before he sold out to those Apple execs)

Not pictured: My respect. Photo: theguardian.com
Not pictured; My respect. Photo: theguardian.com

No conversation about Straight Outta Compton can be held without mentioning the acting, particularly of O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Paul Giamatti. Giamatti first. The whitest of white men portrays the group’s manager, Jerry. Paul Giamatti is a character actor, always fighting for the likes of his cohort John Carrol Lynch, Margot Martindale and many others. Talented actors who star in everything, but nobody can identify. Wallowing in their rich, talented obscurity. In Straight Outta Compton, he might have won the war. He is electrifying in every scene he’s in. He dominates as the squirrely, spineless yet sympathetic manager. The other actor of note, O’Shea Jackson Jr.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Ice Cube. A peculiar choice, given O’Shea Jackson Jr. is the son of O’Shea Jackson, a.k.a Ice Cube. This young actor is effectively tasked with portraying his Dad. Although not quite as awkward a role as Woody Harrelson’s in No Country For Old Men (that’s a story for a whole other day), the idea still makes many cough uncomfortably. This choice does have one saving grace, the fact that O’Shea Jackson Jr. knows Ice Cube well and can accurately portray him. O’Shea is brilliant in his role, showing off an artistic teenager, loving father, oppressed minority and tough Gangsta all in one.

Try to guess which picture is Ice Cube and which is his son. Photo: yahoo.com
Try to guess which picture is Ice Cube and which is his son. Photo: yahoo.com

The Director F. Gary Gray’s direction is also something of note. This man directed a music video with Dre in the past, and is somewhat affiliated with the group and their story, giving him the perfect position to direct their life. He utilizes vibrant lighting and hand-held cams to full effect, getting us all to feel the struggle of what happens in the ghetto. One strong image in particular is during a montage of the LA riots, when a red and blue bandana are tied together and held up by two faceless men. These bandanas represent the Crips and Bloods, arch-rival gangs. The bandanas are held before a wall of cops. It’s a powerful shot, showing that even the groups that hate each other the most are willing to band together to protect their people against the racial bias of the Justice System. (Despite the previous point, I maintain my position of “Crips 4 life!!!”)

My position. Photo: keepcalmstudio.com
My position. Photo: keepcalmstudio.com

Straight Outta Compton is a refreshing take on the biopic genre. For those who don’t know, every year a bunch of movies based on real people are released with only one object in mind. Dat Oscar statue (You know the street value of an Oscar? That stuff’s tight yo). Unfortunately, that means that movie studios have developed a formula for a movie which wins Oscars. That means that pretty much the same movie wins every year (Has to be about the Holocaust, Film actors, a disability/social stigma of some kind or a woman who struggles with feminine issues. Find the last movie which didn’t qualify for any of those) and that movie tends to be a biopic. Most biopics have the same feel, because that feel appeals to the Academy. Thankfully, while Straight Outta Compton definitely has some of that feel, it is vastly different from any other Oscar bait biopic. It concerns issues about police violence, class struggle, rap as art and many others. While Straight Outta Compton will not win any Oscars (94% of the Academy is white, 77% is male and the average age is 63. 63 year old white men aren’t exactly interested in NWA) it will certainly be better than most of the other biopic contenders.

Straight Outta Compton, while still falling into the pit traps of the Oscar biopic, is a well made film with fire acting, a dope script and tight direction.

To quote the titular song, “Man, that [stuff] was dope.” Straight Outta Compton gets 6/7

The Update would like to apologize on behalf of the writer for his whiteness. It is embarrassing for us to read as well.