Late To ‘Straight Outta Compton’

Still catching up with films I’ve missed during my illness, I 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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024