Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti
The Power of Street Knowledge
By Mason Manuel
I have never been a follower of Rap or Hip-Hop; it just never spoke to me like other genres. Because of this, I went into Compton with the assumption that I would not understand its’ message and therefor find the picture unenjoyable. Holy s**t was I wrong. Straight Outta Compton is the most brutal, heartfelt film I have seen this year. Director of the intense Law Abiding Citizen, F. Gary Gray outdoes himself this time around in the telling of the tale of a few kids from the streets of California who changed the world with musical revolution. Powerful performances, an intense tale, and the knowing that the incredible tale is based on true events makes this one of the best films of the year.
Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Easy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (Jackson Jr.), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) are music loving, poetry writing, entrepreneurial nobodies who make most of their income through either drug dealing or DJing at shady clubs. Eventually collaborating and putting that hard earned cash into a single, the group finds themselves in a surprisingly successful situation which gains the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Giamatti). They gain the resources to start their own label and initially enjoy a successful run as up and coming artists. The group begins to write about their personal expereices from the dangerous streets of Compton which begins to reflect negatively on law enforcement and positively on violence and drug use. This obviously does not go over well with everyone, especially the police who do not find themselves particularly fond of Ice Cube’s signature piece, “F*** tha Police.” What follows results in a fight for equality and freedom of speech against a government and people that tried to silence Compton’s citizens.
As soon as the opening credits finish, we are thrown into a chaotic scene involving one of Easy E’s drug deal. Naturally the deal goes badly and greats a raw, intense introduction to Compton. This intensity almost never drops in the 2 and a half hour run time that Straight Outta Compton presents. It’s not all action either; we see these men mature and toil through discrimination, emotional hardship, and trying to rise above their pasts. There is more than one moment here where tears will fall and I must again applaud director Gray for his fantastic portrayal of this. Not only is the action mixed perfectly with emotion, neither style ever feels out of place or overused. Every moment of intensity and emotion feels earned and completely in line with the experiences the characters have gone through.
Speaking of the characters, the actor in this film are top notch. Most notable are O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father Ice Cube and Jason Mitchell as Easy E. Jackson in particular is a revelation as he has never had a professional acting role before. Mitchell (Contraband) has a little more experience than Jackson, but deserves no less credit as he is given a great deal of heavy material that executes flawlessly on screen. Every one of the characters is a tortured soul in their own right and no one actor ever feels unbelievable or overtly cheesy in portraying gangsters. IT’s heartbreaking to watch as these close friends are inevitably torn apart by life and greed, even though we know that some live off to become huge stars.
Part biography, part documentary, and all eye opening, Straight Outta Compton delivers all it promises and more. The in-depth look into the lives creating Ruthless’ (The group’s label) and the eventual disbanding will give any viewer a reason to dust off their old cassette tapes. I know I have. A 9.8 out of 10.