Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Starring O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown, Jr., Aldis Hodge, and Paul Giamatti
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Like many of those unjustly ridiculed Academy members, I couldn't have cared less about the subjects of Straight Outta Compton seeing as how rap music has no place on my iPod. However, the creation and subsequent dismantling of the rap group NWA in the late 1980s/early 1990s yields a decent story that proves to be surprisingly capable of keeping my interest. Rappers Eric "Eazy-E" Wright (Jason Mitchell), Andre "Dr. Dre" Young (Corey Hawkins), and O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) each had varying degrees of difficulty in their life in Compton, California. Eric was into the drug trade, Andre was an aspiring DJ having trouble at home with his mother, and Andre was a high school student harassed by police simply for living where he lived. The three end up banding together (along with two other members) to create a rap album which is met with success in the local area, piquing the interest of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who eventually ends up managing the group sending them on a nationwide tour after their subsequent album which includes the controversial song "F*** tha Police" detailing injustices at the hands of law enforcement becomes a breakout hit. The aftermath of the very un-PC song and the subsequent skyrocketing success leads to quite a bit of tumult within NWA as Ice Cube begins to question whether Jerry is really the man to lead the group to all of their dreams.
Despite following a typical storyline of a group of nobodies becoming immensely successful only to be broken apart by fame, Straight Outta Compton never has that VH1 Behind the Music feel to it in part thanks to the controlled and steady direction from F. Gary Gray who allows his film time to develop the characters at all aspects during their career. We get time before they're successful, during their peak of fame, and post-NWA careers and this permits to audience to see the varied emotions and motivations of each of the three key members of the group. With its lengthy, nearly 150-minute runtime, Gray doesn't rush things which is surprisingly a positive especially considering this reviewer's distaste for movies that overstay their welcome.
That said, despite the time spent delving into Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube's personal stories, the screenplay (the only Oscar-nominated aspect of the film) sometimes feels oddly rushed and slipshod. Incidents that led to Ice Cube's distrust of police, as an example, feel pedestrian and forced as opposed to impactful. Similarly, scenes depicting the LA Riots in the early 90s lack an emotional resonance and feel slightly laughable rather than riveting. The film falters when looking at these "big picture" aspects of society, but wholly succeeds when looking at the individual struggles facing its three main characters.
Part of the reason for that success is the aforementioned direction that permits the characters' personal lives to resonate at a slowed-down pace, but the bigger surprise here is the group of three relatively unknown actors who capture the lives of rappers Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. I'd be hard-pressed to choose who I liked best out of the trio of Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, and O'Shea Jackson, Jr (the latter of whom hasn't acted before and is the son of Ice Cube). The film gracefully moves in and out of the lives of all three and each actor more than stands his ground and makes his aspect of the story riveting. By the time the end rolled around, I'd say Jason Mitchell may eke out the MVP award simply because his character goes through a bit more of an arc and personal struggle, but all three are impressive and really elevate the proceedings.
In the end, I can't blame the Academy for the failure to nominate Straight Outta Compton. It's a very good film, but even I can't place it in the top ten of the year. Will it pop up in a few RyMickey Award categories? It's possible, but even if it doesn't quite make the cut, I must admit that I was quite surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I did.
The RyMickey Rating: B