Icons With Attitudes: A Review of ‘Straight Outta Compton’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 14, 2015

It’s always a tricky beast when you are trying to gauge the cultural and historical importance of a musical group on the pop culture landscape, but in the world of hip-hop and rap music the debate has actually never been simpler.  There was never a “super group” in rap music until the “N.W.A” and quite honestly there hasn’t been since.  In Straight Outta Compton we get the rise and fall of the men who changed the rap game forever and despite the occasional moment of bloated expositional storytelling, this is simply one of the more gripping musical bio pics to come out way in quite some time.

In the mid-80’s for a young African-American man, there were no more dangerous streets to grow up in then those in Compton, California.  Their dangerous experiences in simply trying to survive the day were translated it their art which was brutally honest as it rebelled against a corrupt and ruthless structure of authority and gave a voice to a generation that was louder and angrier then even these young men had ever expected.  It’s a gripping story of how music ignited a cultural war and inspired generations to come through the power of honesty and the unshakeable strength of the music itself.

Like any bio pic, it’s bloated and a little over long, but without a doubt Straight Outta Compton gets a lot more right than it does wrong as it captures the raw electricity of the music and the energy of the “gangsta” rap lifestyle that is so destructive but also so damn compelling at the exact time.


Working from a somewhat inflated script, director F. Gary Grey has to navigate some fairly murky waters but he captures the essence of a pivotal time, not only in these men’s lives but in the culture and the community at the time.  Grey doesn’t glamorize the thug life, if anything he does the exact opposite as he tracks these young men who are trying to make something better for themselves by using what brings them and their families down, against them.  It’s a lot of story to sift through and while you can almost consider this a Coles notes version of the entire story, we get swept into the personal drama.  It’s drama that is brought on them, and it is drama that they end up creating themselves through their own success and the corruptive power that money can have in the music business which is not very honest even on the best of times.  The lessons that these men learned on the streets worked in their favor and also contributed to the short shelf life of the group.  To his credit, Grey never gets married to one individual story and the perspectives of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube all get fair weight, even though it wasn’t always weighted in history.

O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E are young actors with limited if any experience in the acting game but they capture the energy and the essence of these men so very well.  Jackson in particular who is playing his own dad, Ice Cube captures the anger of the time that we couldn’t look away from and much like his dad I’d love to see him to get more roles in the years ahead.  Corey Hawkins was great as he channels the burgeoning brilliance of Dr. Dre who is biding his time to make sure that he gets heard while Jason Mitchell brings frenetic energy to the role of Eazy-E as his misguided loyalties and desire for fame inside his own community ended up in his ultimate downfall.  Granted for the sake of length, many of their individual stories have to get glossed over in musical segments that happen just a little too often but this could have easily been broken up into multiple movies as these three men and the group themselves have stories that are worth telling.

While it’s not going to be a movie that will make the purest happy, quite simply because there is just too much to tell, Straight Outta Compton tells just enough of the story of N.W.A with drowning us in exposition or facts and allowing it to get to the raw emotion of the matter.  It was never about glamorizing thug or gang life and culture; it was about showing how pointless it all truly is to begin with.


  • Release Date: 8/14/2015
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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