Saturday, June 17, 2017

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

The complex and storied history of NWA is depicted in this film from director F. Gary Gray. Easy-E (Jason Mitchell) is a drug dealer staying one step ahead of the law. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is a beat making DJ trying to find a job to stay at his mom's house. Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) writes the rhymes and experience police and gang violence throughout his daily life. With the help of DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), the rap group heads out to the club to perform despite the club owner's objections to this type of music. Easy-E and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) see their performance and potential. Dre gets arrested protecting his brother in a fight outside the club.

Easy-E bails him out and Dre proposes that Easy-E invests in the record business to help Dre produce under the label Ruthless. When a rap group walks out, Dre convinces Easy-E to step into the booth to drop a verse. It takes a few tries but they have a hit record that blows up on the radio. Manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) realizes he has an exceptional phenomenon on his hands. NWA puts on a show at a skating bringing in a loud, enthusiastic crowd. Jerry faces skepticism about the music but pursues a path for these young men. The group also run into Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). 

With funding from the label, the group puts in the time to create an album. Dre still has trouble with his baby momma demanding money from him. The group gets harassed by the police outside the studio. They head back into the studio and finish the album with a healthy dose of disrespect for the disgusting treatment they've received from authority. They head out on tour drawing massive crowds but derision from the news media. Their pension for large guns does lead to some altercations and their provocative lyrics cause confrontations with the cops. They turn this controversy into publicity.

Contract disputes arise, especially for Ice Cube who feels he was not compensated for his lyric writing. Dre is devastated when he finds out his brother has died. The debate over money splits them apart when they return to Los Angeles. Suge Knight hovers around representing talent having talks with Dre and Easy-E worries about keeping Dr. Dre on the label. Ice Cube goes on a tear on his own album and destroys his label manager's office when he doesn't get paid. When DOC gets in an accident, Suge offers to take a look at Dre's paperwork as a precaution. The beef blows up between NWA and Ice Cube.

The group splits more when Dre leaves NWA to start a company with Suge Knight. Dre brings in new artists like Snoop Dogg (Lakeith Stanfield) to build up the new label. Easy-E starts to have money trouble and is threatened and beaten up by Suge Knight to release Dre from his contracts. The violence of the Rodney King riots plays out in the background of the rap beefs. Death Row Records achieves heights of success but disagreements between Dre and Suge grow. The animosity settles down after a time but Easy-E becomes sick with AIDS and they are unable to reunite for a tour. Dr. Dre leaves Death Row to start his own label, Aftermath. The movie glosses over some of the greater controversies to display the rappers in a more positive light, but as a film, it's an entertaining spectacle. This movie shows the potential of the hip-hop biopic as a great story filled with quality performance and direction. 

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