By Eduardo Victoria / [email protected]
One of the great divides of the musical world is the rap genre. Relatively speaking, it’s still in its infancy and changing as much as the times it has existed in. Straight Outta Compton tells the story of 3 important figures in rap: Eric Wright (Eazy-E), O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), and Andre Young (Dr. Dre). Played by Jason Mitchell, O’Shea Jackson, Jr, and Corey Hawkins respectively.
- Gary Gray does an amazing job setting the time and place for the film. Compton, CA – 1986. Wright, Young, and Jackson find themselves living in the slums of California, racially charged due to gang violence and crime. What Jackson and Young have in common is a love for music, which eventually connects them with fellow struggling artists Lorenzo Patterson (MC Ren) and Antoine Carraby (DJ Yella). Actors Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown, Jr. portray the rappers in the film, respectively.
What ensues is their rise to fame and eventual fracture as the group NWA. The film is a rare case in which it felt that it ran too long but we didn’t see nearly enough. It’s apparent that the group’s long and troubled history is perhaps too great to fit into just one film. So many characters come and go that we’re still meeting new people in the third act.
Paul Giamatti is three for three this year, delivering another great performance, this time as Jerry Heller, the group’s manager. The acting is brilliant, particularly the performance from O’Shea Jackson, Jr. playing his own father (very meta indeed, especially because they look just like each other). One of the best soundtracks of the year also supercharges the picture to almost angry levels, just as the young rappers were back in the late 80s, dealing with gangs, drugs, police brutality, and the evils of the music industry.
Even with all of that, the film just didn’t click with me. There are many scenes that go nowhere. A great example is early on when we see Heller approach the guys at a swimming pool, accompanied by two other people, yet in the next shot, they’re gone. The film’s score by Joseph Trapanese sounds like it’s more at home in an action picture than a dramatic biopic about the NWA. A chase sequence through Downtown LA culminates with a booming crescendo of bass drums that’s a little a “too Dark Knight.”
The loose editing, pointless story beats, unnecessary character introductions (sorry Snoop and ‘Pac), and bizarre explosions of action make Straight Outta Compton feel like a rushed product. For a film that runs at 2 hours and 27 minutes, we see a lot but only scratch the surface. The film should have strictly focused on Eazy, Cube, and Dre to have really hit home in the dramatic department.
Because I’m not a rap fan, nor have I followed their careers closely, I can only judge the film on its cinematic merits, for which it is getting a lot of awards buzz. Only time will tell if Oscar will give Compton a watch. For me, this is a rare case in which I’m hoping for an extended or director’s cut on the Blu-Ray, which I probably should have waited for anyway.
Rated R. Now playing at Downtown Cinemark 10. 147 minutes.