Film Review: Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

Boasting possibly the best soundtrack of 2015, N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton is illuminating, if not always engaging. F. Gary Gray’s film says as much about the era it is set in as it does about the group.

In 1987 in Compton, Los Angeles, a group of five young men come together to make music. When they produce a rap song on their own label, it grabs the attention of a music manager who helps get the group signed. N.W.A. achieve great success with their songs about their experiences, but this is not without controversy…

Straight Outta Compton tells the story of the formation and success of early 1990s rap superstars N.W.A. On one level, the film is a rags-to-riches tale of a group of young men from Compton who capitalise on the appetite of a new kind of music. Nevertheless, the film goes beyond the biographical tale to illustrate preoccupations of the era.

The film opens on Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright taking care of business. It is clear that Straight Outta Compton is going to be a straightforward biopic. The handheld camera is more suggestive of an action thriller than a drama. The film racks up the tension as it progresses, with elements of the group’s success causing rifts between key players.

The film also focuses on social issues at the time. There is reference in Straight Outta Compton to the mistreatment the group faces by the police, and how this informs one of their biggest hits. Other socio-cultural issues are at the forefront  Later in the film, fractions in the group and between record labels lead to the creation of some well-known acts and incidences. The only downside to the film is that it is a little overlong. Some of the appearances of famous artists in the final third, for example, might be amusing but are not really necessary. Performances in the film are good overall, with O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Jason Mitchell standing out in particular.

Straight Outta Compton is a fitting portrait of N.W.A. and a great example of a layered biopic.

Straight Outta Compton is available on digital download now and on DVD and Blu-Ray from 11th January 2016.