Straight Outta Compton (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by F. Gary Gray, and starring Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor, and Paul Giamatti.
This is a raucous biopic that will light your pants on fire for the first forty five minutes and you will fall head over heels in love with the success story of pioneering rap group N.W.A. But the honeymoon doesn’t last long.
Straight Outta Compton does not paint the group formed by Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) as very likable people on screen. It may take some real soul searching to realize it, and if you are like most film critics on this release, you will probably be wearing your guilt goggles and forget what makes a film worth watching. I’m not even being biased towards the fact that the portrayal of Dr. Dre is only half true.
I’m going to be very clear about the fact that films portraying flawed people are not a bad movies by default for expectations of moral behavior not being met by the “good guys”. Albeit, it takes more than the stirring emotional ride as they fight for their rights in the first half to save it by the time they are pitted against one another.
Being young, black, and trying to make it or just survive while facing gang bangers and police violence is harrowing to the story, and all the core members start out the unexpected underdogs facing deep conflict in life from society. But once the record sales, fame, and wealth are achieved, these brothers in arms transgress into heavies; the antagonists who play protagonists. It’s easy to empathize with loss and struggle, and being oppressed, but not so much with the extreme apathy and glossed over misogyny that lays the foundation for the second half of the film.
That’s not even what makes the film a weak one. Believe me, it is great for the first hour or so, but it really struggles to maintain any real spine. It just keeps unraveling chronological events that don’t really tie the characters together at all. They separate and deal with individual subplots after being together for the first half and it loses emotional impact while trying to make a poignant rising struggle with conflict that deflates due to the lack of a real antagonist against the group as it has already split up and turned against itself or stayed in cooperation with the new opposing force, Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), and Death Row Records. This film is a fall from grace on so many levels with the characters, and it just doesn’t pull off anything achieved by a moral dilemma.
Dre was a workaholic. He became successful. Eazy died, Dre leaves Death Row Records. The end.
The third act is weakened by the lack of a real climax that follows through with the spine which is supposed to keep the moral dilemma of the protagonist working toward a goal. It’s almost as if the order is backwards. They start out achieving success really quickly, and then just spiral downward as they become famous, learning and achieving nothing better than they do in the first half. There is no lesson. There is no cause for celebration. There is barely any reason to try to relate. The moral is devoured because they give into the consequence free lifestyle. It’s unfair to claim that Eazy dying of AIDS is some kind of punishment for his sexual behavior. That’s not really written in. There’s just nothing of substance there. His death is a tragedy, but oh, well. Dre doesn’t really care to begin with.
Fighting for the right to speech over “F*$% the Police” in the first half is the only portion of the arcs that make it worth watching. It’s delivered well by all the actors and is believable. It is the most exciting battle with antagonism in the movie, but there really isn’t an antagonist. There are several weak ones, and films with weak antagonists are typically total flops. The whole group becomes their own worst enemy once the issues with cops and bangers are hung out to dry by relocating to their new mansions for their epic pool parties. The film doesn’t rise in the second half. It piddles along until Eazy dies and doesn’t deliver any sequencing relevant to the moral dilemma. The dilemma seems to shift ruthlessly, no pun on Ruthless Records, but maybe that’s what they were going for?
Films that contain controversial social content are not typically teaching the public to copy what is on screen. You have the ability to choose what is right and wrong and characters often unpack turbulent lessons in the path to achieving a goal or a dream. There are a few different goals in the film. Dre wants to be a DJ, then produce, then get the group together and record. His goals drive the entire plot, but he is de-emphasized as the group unravels and the three subplots split the story which ends in tragedy for Eazy-E and the polar opposite for Dr. Dre.
What the film doesn’t show is that Dr. Dre was also an extremely violent person, but you can get a sense of it by observing his tolerance for it and his latent intolerance of Suge Knight. Dre was living in a virulent world by the time The Chronic was released. Straight Outta Compton paints him as a golden boy who isn’t afraid to express and accept emotion, stays in his lane, and gets what he deserves for hard work, but even the quasi fictional portrayal of his real character doesn’t add up to anything being at stake that he really has to work for beyond the split. Once the excitement of the struggle dies, so does the movie.
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