didn’t know if Straight Outta Compton
would speak to me. I’m familiar with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre today, but I had no
awareness of N.W.A. when they burst on the scene several decades ago. I certainly
didn’t understand gangsta rap or its origins on the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Strong reviews and word of mouth impelled me to see the movie this past weekend
and I’m glad I did. It’s awfully good.
Director F. Gary Gray has a lot of ground to cover but manages
to keep the film moving from one incident to another, like a vaudevillian
spinning plates—no easy feat given the number of characters it portrays and the
many years it spans. The screenplay, credited to Jonathan Herman and Andrea
Berloff (with story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Berloff), establishes
the volatile atmosphere in which the principals grew up and makes its
crystal-clear why the young rappers’ breakthrough songs were fueled by anger—and
spoke so loudly to an audience hungry for the truth.
In a world where violence is an everyday fact of life and
emotions run high, it’s inevitable that melodrama will enter the picture, but
these scenes play honestly, a credit not only to the filmmakers but the
talented young actors who make up the ensemble. If you’ve seen any
show-business biopics before you’ll recognize story tropes about crooked
managers, bad business deals and such…but here again, there is no avoiding the facts.
(I can’t gauge the honesty or candor of the movie, which was produced by Ice
Cube and Dr. Dre, among others, but it bears the ring of truth. I’m aware that
certain things were left out of the narrative; I can only judge what remains.)
Straight Outta Compton
is compelling and eye-opening, a timely review of recent Los Angeles history as
well as a story of friendship, brotherhood, hedonism, creativity, and
determination. It’s meant to pack a punch and it does.