Straight Outta Compton


F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) has directed a highly watchable bio-pic of the influential Los Angeles rap group N.W.A that manages to celebrate their individual and collective achievements by using the same elements that made then notorious -- violence, profanity and the objectification of women all to a killer beat. Straight Outta Compton stars a trio of outstanding young actors -- Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and O'Shea Jackson Jr. as his father, stage name Ice Cube. Gray is peddling naturalism through his street scenes and the characters' Crenshaw argot. The young men's disaffection and cynicism, nearly all because of the horrific treatment they receive from L.A. police, rise and converge in brilliant beats and word play recorded in studios paid for with dollars earned by former dope dealer Eazy-E. Their attitude on record and on-stage swagger attracts the attention of promoter Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who wins the group's confidence and ushers them into the big time -- which is not entirely the same as success. Gray is a natural at staging a party scene -- and the film has a surfeit of them, IMO -- but the casual jocularity of the group members rings true and keeps the film from devolving into a succession of music videos. It is unfortunate Gray's creative team fell back on tired black dramatic tropes -- preachy, long-suffering black mothers slapping sense into their children and the near absence of responsible adult men in the lives of the lead characters. The closest thing to a "positive" male role model on the screen is Giamatti's Heller, an aging, shady Jewish pitch man who takes the boys for a ride. Recommended for fans of hip hop or of the era -- mid-80s to mid-90s.

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