Last year, Dr Dre sold his audio product range Beats to Apple for a record-breaking $3 billion, reportedly making him the richest man in hip-hop. But before he was known as the guy who launched the careers of Eminem and 50 Cent, he was part of NWA, a group that changed the face of the hip-hop music scene.
Focusing on the lives of several members: aspiring producer Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), talented lyricist Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and drug dealer Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Straight Outta Compton charts the rise and fall of NWA, during the establishment of Ruthless Records in the 1980s, to the eventual disbandment of the group in the early 1990s.
At first glance, Straight Outta Compton is portrayed like a rags-to-riches story. Co-produced by Dre and Ice Cube, the film focuses on the success of the group. However, their influence on the hip-hop scene, as well as the darker side of their lives in Compton, feels missing from the story. The film covers a number of racially motivated incidents and a minor encounter with drugs but these are practically brushed aside to concentrate on the dynamic and relationships of the group. In doing so, the filmmakers play it a little too safe by telling half of the story, rather than risk telling the harsher truths behind the success.
Despite the film's slightly overlong running time of 147 minutes, it gives the ensemble plenty of opportunities to shine. The young cast give brave performances, with standouts from Jackson, Jr Hawkins and Mitchell but also Giamatti, who plays shady manager Jerry Heller. In terms of direction, F Gary Gray captures the darker side of Compton and recreates NWA’s crowd-pleasing musical sets. There is an edge to the dialogue, courtesy of screenwriters Herman and Berloff, and it essentially serves as an ode to hip-hop, but the gaps from behind the scenes leaves question marks throughout the feature.
Straight Outta Compton is a compelling, credible biopic with strong performances and direction, which could have been benefited from a braver narrative.