Omar: Unrated out of 5

Well, well, well…the time has finally come for me to review Straight Outta Compton (2015), directed by F. Gary Gray but lets be honest, this movie is the brainchild of Dr. Dre aka Andre Romelle Young. Man, I gotta admit, this is a difficult review to write for many reasons. The main reason why this review is tough is that it’s just too hard to separate my love of N.W.A., Eazy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre’s music (not to mention all the people Dre has heavily influenced like Tupac, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, etc.) from what was depicted on the big screen. My love of hip-hop and rap would have me say, “10 out of 10 stars! This is a hip-hop movie done PERFECTLY!” but I can’t say that because to do so would be hypocritical. There are simply too many important thing left out of this movie and to further ignore them in writing this review would be an injustice. But we’ll get into that in a minute.

Before getting into all the heavy criticism, I’ll start with the positives because there are plenty of positives to be discussed. I stand by my early statements that this is the best hip-hop/rap movie I’ve ever seen. For starters, the casting and acting were phenomenal. I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about MC Ren or Yella so I can’t speak to how faithfully Aldris Hodge and Neil Brown Jr. were in their portrayals but to the untrained eye they did a good job. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., was about a perfect as a casting call gets, for obvious reasons. He channeled his father’s aura well. Jason Mitchell was DOPE as Eazy E! I was a bit doubtful when Eazy first appeared on screen but the guy has some acting skills. That piece of acting at the end of the film hit me on a deep emotional level. Corey Hawkins did a good job of channeling Dre to the extent that the script and plot allowed him too. I can’t say his portrayal was accurate to what Dre was like in real life but that’s not his fault. Paul Giamatti was great as always in the role of the white, corporate, scumbag, exploiter. Also shout-out to all the side characters! I don’t feel like googling their names but the guy who played Tupac looked uncannily similar, I really thought they just got hologram Tupac to star in the film. The guy who played Suge Knight was perfect and the guy who played Snoop Dogg may not have looked entirely accurate but his voice and flow were very well done.

The atmosphere of this film was awesome in that it did a good job of showing the harsh environment that was the necessary incubator in creating a group as revolutionary and in-your-face as N.W.A. Some specific examples to this are the numerous instances of police brutality, the L.A. race riots, and the heavy gang presence. They showed the social reality of the time that was essential to N.W.A.’s message. I read that before 2005’s awesome Hustle & Flowhip-hop/rap movies too often focused on glorifying the hood and the hood lifestyle instead of showing the desperate reality of the situation. This is one of those movies that shows the harsh nature that comes with living in the ghetto and the desire to find a way out by any means necessary (school, music, drug-dealing, etc). This movie also shows just how violently mainstream America reacted to N.W.A., a group that did nothing but speak the truth about their lives.

Another thing I liked about the movie was how they incorporated all the iconic music, labels, and figures that comes with making a film about west-coast hip-hop at the time. I loved seeing how bits of different iconic songs are pieced together or teased as the film progresses. Seeing Death Row Records or Tupac and Snoop Dogg in the studio are just example of things that today have huge status but at the time were just everyday occurrences. That was all really cool to see. I also HAVE to make a statement about all the RAIDERSSSS gear. Being a diehard Raiders fan, it was awesome seeing all the Raider influence.

This movie was a long film but it was impressive how it didn’t feel anywhere near as long as it is (2 hours and 30 minutes). Maybe this was because I love the subject matter so much but I really feel like the movie was just paced well. Every time it looked there was going to be a lull, something significant would happen.

I could honestly go on for much longer about what this film does right because it is undeniable that this film is well made and tells a hell of a story. For the purpose of this review I’ll leave the praise there and move on to the critical portion of this review.

If you didn’t already know, Dr. Dre is a bit of a temperamental ass in real life and that’s putting it mildly. Ice Cube and Eazy E were no saints as well. By no means am I judging them because I don’t have that authority or desire. Society can’t give people failing schools, failing institutions, failing social services, and deny them access to opportunities and expect them to grow up to be upstanding law-abiding citizens. This sort of reminds me of how middle-class and upper-class (predominantly white) pundits, citizens, and the media have no restraint when it comes to chastising people like Dez Bryant or Josh Gordon for things they say or do without acknowledging that they come from an entirely different world. (Btw I highly recommend this recent Rolling Stones interview with Dez Bryant: http://rol.st/1KeotM37). Also it’s a bit hypocritical to bump someone’s music, a product and reflection of their lifestyles, and then call them bad people for genuinely being what they say they are, what entertains us when it’s music but repulses us when it’s real.

That being said, what I have a problem with is erasing history. Specifically what I’m talking about in this instance is violence against women. This movie does an amazing job of talking about the horrifying state of race relations in this country but it says nothing about violence against women. In fact, this movie does worse than ignore the subject, it avoids and erases it entirely. Dr. Dre and Eazy E have a history of abusing women to brutal levels and the film says nothing. Until very recently (conveniently coinciding with the release of this film), Dre didn’t even apologize for his past. Dr. Dre is a figure who has largely remained immune from criticism for his repeated history of abusing women because he is such an influential character and that is an injustice.

Originally I was just going to give this movie a very high grade and dock it a few points for failing to acknowledge some important issues but that didn’t sit well with me. To have done that would be to continue to trivialize a very real and very pressing issue harming our society and ruining countless lives. The point of N.W.A. is that they are flawed individuals with awful circumstances who said, “So what?” and threw everything back in your face, to erase history goes entirely against this. I can accept and respect flawed individuals portrayed honestly SIGNIFICANTLY more than I can appreciate fabricated squeaky-clean images. That’s unfortunate in this instance because this really is an amazing story that was told powerfully well if we choose to ignore it’s few troublesome flaws.

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