From the director of The Negotiator and that Italian Job remake comes the story of a man with an equally chequered past: headphone manufacturer Dr. Dre, and his rap group NWA.
F. Gary Gray directs this biopic with a street-level energy, which inevitably peters out over two-and-a-half hours – definitely too long. However, the film does convey the significance of the Compton group who revolutionised hip-hop in the 1980s, and whose “reality raps” brought life in the ‘hood to musical prominence.
But Ice Cube and Dre have come a long way from the mean streets of South Central LA, and serve as the film’s producers, allowing them to omit certain significant details; Dre’s assaults on women, for example. Or the fact that Ice Cube went on to star in the movie Anaconda.
Speaking of which, there was a trailer for his new movie Ride Along 2 before the film, somewhat undermining his portrayal here as a man of great integrity who’d never dream of selling out – least of all for a tacky comedy that trades on the most negative black stereotypes.
Ironically, the actor who plays Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) displays much more acting talent than the man himself. Jason Mitchell is impressive as Eazy-E and Corey Hawkins strong as Dre, though he looks nothing like him – they should have cast Mo’Nique. Weirdly, Paul Giamatti plays an evil manager with a dodgy wig for the second time in as many months.
Of course, the soundtrack is superb, featuring almost as much funk and soul as gangster rap – after all, Dr. Dre has made a career out of sampling P-Funk. There’s George Clinton, Tupac (Marcc Rose) and even an appearance from sock designer Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield).
What elevates Straight Outta Compton above mere hagiography, though, is its political content. With the Rodney King scandal in the background, the film highlights the same racist police brutality that still plagues America 25 years later. This successfully contextualises NWA’s music of violence and protest, and it’s this political angle that separates the Boyz-n-the-Hood from the Jersey Boys.