Every year there is at least one musical biopic. We’ve already had one in 2015, with The Beach Boys film Love and Mercy. Rappers and rap groups have not been focused on as much though, with only a few exceptions such as 8 Mile, The Notorious B.I.G. and Get Rich Or Die Trying. Does the new rap film, Straight Outta Compton pave the way for more rap biopics?
Straight Outta Compton stars O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and Paul Giamatti and is directed by F. Gary Gray. The film follows the formation of the rap super-group N.W.A., and follows it’s members Ice Cube (Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Mitchell) during the 1980s and 90s.
The story starts by introducing our three main protagonists, with a small, handwritten scrawl appearing somewhere on the screen, telling us who they are, along with their alias. The film introduces most of the main characters this way; it’s a nice little feature that gives the film a little bit of personality itself.
The acting by all is well done. Jackson, Hawkins and Mitchell, along with the other members of N.W.A., MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Drown Jr.) all portray their respective characters effectively, each with their own traits and flaws. All should be praised for how they throw themselves into the performances on stage during the first half of the film and then for some emotionally charged scenes near the end of the film.
To go back to the on stage musical performances, I honestly couldn’t tell you whether the actors are rapping themselves or just lip-syncing to the actual tracks, but that doesn’t matter. The actors sell the idea perfectly that these guys are passionate musicians who want to express themselves in the way they know how. This is where the film shines, when we see the passion fuelling Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E to create their next big hit. I found it extremely hard to not get caught up in the beat of the songs shown in a montage of the N.W.A. Tour, making me either constantly tap my foot or mouth the words along to some of the N.W.A. songs that I know.
However, these scenes, of Ice Cube riding the school bus writing down lyrics or Dr. Dre listening to his favourite albums are confined to the first half of the film, with the second half focusing more on the feuding between the different band members and socio-factors that were happening at the time. This divide in the film is the main problem I had with Straight Outta Compton, as the film loses some of the sparkle that the first half had. The constant movement between the sun-drenched pool parties to the studio boardroom arguments back to the pool parties again just isn’t as engaging to watch as the young rappers working together to create some amazing songs.
The film also feels a little disjointed, with some powerful emotional scenes ending and then the main cast returning to a composed state. It might be due to the editing, where these scenes are pushed together to seem like they are happening on the same day, but it just feels a bit off kilter. The length of the film is also a problem. Straight Outta Compton is the better part of two and a half hours, and with that divide I mentioned earlier, it feel a lot longer than it actually was. What seems strange is that there are scenes in the trailer that don’t appear at all in the film. It feels as if the film had been a lot longer before being cut to make it more manageable. This could be the reason why a few of the aforementioned scenes feel disjointed, along with the ending feeling like it abruptly cuts off, instead leaving us with an epilogue of archive footage of the real members of N.W.A. and the artists and rappers that cite them as an influence.
In summary, Straight Outta Compton is a well-made biopic, with a stellar cast and a killer soundtrack. If you’re a fan of rap music then I fully recommend it.
Score: 7/10 A brilliant insight into one of the most influential musical groups of recent time.