Wednesday 16 October 2019

Straight Outta Compton review - 'it's not just a rapper's delight'

Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton

Tanya Sweeney

A running time of 147 minutes smacks of a director with indulgence issues; one that is surrounded by too many ‘yes’ men. Granted, it has become the norm for movies to stretch well beyond their standard-issue 100-minute mark, but two and a half hours?


For audiences already depleted of attention span, it’s something of an ask. Luckily, Straight Outta Compton whizzes by at such a breakneck speed that there’s barely a moment to catch breath.

Chances are, given that this is an original story for Dr Dre and NWA, you were expecting a rehash of other hip-hop films like Menace II Society or Boyz In The Hood. But Straight Outta Compton is an unexpected delight.

Most of us are already familiar with Dr Dre and Ice Cube: the former has long been a chart-topping hitmaker, while the latter has taken a curious career byway, showing up in 21 Jump Street and, eh, Are We There Yet? But the pair came from rough-hewn childhoods in Compton, 16 miles down the highway from Hollywood.

The film sparks to life with helicopters and sirens as familiar tropes… but once we encounter Dr Dre — known to his mum as Andre Young (Corey Hawkins) — immersing himself in Roy Ayers records, poring over every beat, we get a hint that he may not be long for the mean streets.

He and his pal Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr — Ice Cube’s son in real life) show hints of promise, ambition and creative vim, but their daily lives are dogged by the LAPD, who gratuitously harass and threaten them (in what has become truly salient stuff, given recent events in the US).

As teenagers, all they want to do is block out the white noise of parents, baby-mommas and responsibility in general, and make music. Their fortunes take an upswing when they meet music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and NWA is born amid a cloud of controversy.

Straight Outta Compton is unique, in that it provides a Hollywood gloss-over of the NWA story, while retaining plenty of grit, rage and menace. Plenty is whitewashed off the slate however: the group’s misogyny towards women is alluded to throughout, although Dre’s assault of Dee Barnes — a memorable moment in the rapper’s career — are ignored.

Album review: Dr Dre 'Compton'  

Still, there is plenty to love here. The stylish sequences come thick and fast, while the band’s eventual demise, which was explosive any way you slice it, was always going to translate well on screen.

Ultimately, F Gary Gray manages to juggle rap hagiography with a bromance movie. Above all, the audience becomes keenly aware of NWA’s contribution to rap culture, and US race relations in general. For that reason, you could forgive Ice Cube his latter-day career boo-boos.

Well, almost.

Now read Paul Whitington's take: Straight Outta Compton review - 'a wonderful and classically American story but it's airbrushed'


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