Walk Hard, the John C Reilly starring, Judd Apatow produced parody movie was a piss take of Walk the Line and Ray. But while it may have taken specifics from those two movies, it was really a piss take of all music biopics, because they’re all the same. It seems like the only musicians worth making movies about all share a similar story arc. They come from humble, if not downright oppressive origins, their raw talent and will power refuses to let them be beaten down by their many knocks. They find fame and fortune, they’re almost destroyed by that fame and fortune, then they either die from their vices or conquer them. Despite the predictability, I still like these movie, which is why I was pretty stoked for Straight Outta Compton.
It’s the mid 80s, and in South Central Los Angeles, that means things like poverty and police harassment are pretty common. A young wannabe rapper, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr) writes rhymes for young drug dealer, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). With DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) also working on production and lyrics, things don’t really take off for this group until they recruit young wannabe DJ, Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins). Once they find each other and become N.W.A, it’s not long before a montage of making music in the studio leads to local notoriety and attracting the interest of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti).
With Jerry’s backing, they release their debut record and basically invent gangsta rap. Selling out massive venues, touring the country and attracting plenty of controversy along the way, their egos grow quicker than their stacks of cash, and relationships start to suffer. But this isn’t just about the rise of N.W.A, it’s about the rise of three men in particular, following Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E beyond the band and album that initially made them famous.
With the real life Dre and Cube onboard as producers of Straight Outta Compton, I didn’t expect a real warts and all depiction of these guys. I expected it be all about their genius and success in the face of adversity, while glancing past their not so honorable qualities. And that’s pretty much what I got. This is a bit of a puff piece, showing just enough of these guys at their not-quite-best so Dr Dre and Ice Cube can tell themselves it’s an honest, warts and all depiction.
Straight Outta Compton is as by the numbers as I expected, and it’s as toothless as I expected. Luckily, the music of N.W.A is so good, it pretty much makes up for those massive shortcomings. The recording studio montages are super cheesy, but the songs are awesome enough to overcome that cheesiness. The time and places that formed these men and inspired their revolutionary music are fascinating as well. So while the execution is nothing special, the story and its characters are too interesting to let that bring them down.