Good, but not as much of a conversation starter as it was presented to be. It's not about the message in the end, it's about the people.
Straight Outta Compton is the latest in a long-line of big budget bio-pics hitting the screens this year. Taking place between the late eighties and early nineties, it tells the tale of the rise and fall of LA hip-hop supergroup N.W.A., from their ideals of accurately portraying the threat of their streets through music, to eventually having that ideal corrupted by greed and jealousy.
The release of this film could not be better timed, with the intense focus on police brutality in the media, and the rise of a new generation of Compton-based talent such as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock; whose music continues the ideals that began with N.W.A. Put on top of that a tie-in with the latest Dr Dre album, the first in sixteen years, and thats enough publicity to make this film a hit.
For the most part, Compton is good enough for the hype. Cinematography, dialogue, editing, are all great, never with moments of cheesiness commonly found in the genre, and the acting in particular is brilliant, with the actors not only looking amazingly alike to their subjects (Ice Cube is played by his own son), but managing to capture the small quirks in their characters, easily seen through interviews or performances. A fan of the group, or of hip-hop in general, would not be disappointed with the film, from its great soundtrack, to spotting the subtle references to famous works, and foreshadowing the futures of the characters, and of the industry. However, what stops it from brilliance, is that it falls into the same pitfalls as most biopics; that it isn’t being made to simply be a great film, but to sell you something.
What differentiates this film from the rest of the genre is that it focuses on a group of individuals and an ideal, rather than just a single icon and their triumphs, which acts as both a blessing and a curse for the film. While most biopics are inherently rather narcissistic, portraying their muses in a perfect limelight, allowing only a few humanising flaws to slip; by not having one focus in particular, this prevents the film from having enough time to present their characters in the same way. Which is good, but then of course there’s a negative side to this too. Instead of having two hours to say “BLANK overcomes BLANK to achieve BLANK” they have to show that for four characters as well as their influence on music, and society. For the first half, the film presents this rather well, but by the second half the music is dropped, the impact to society is dropped, and instead you’re left watching rich guys that we haven’t had enough time with to fully characterise, arguing with each other as they aren’t making as many millions as they would have liked.
The lack of patience, and the mass of story and time to get through, results in it being a very surface-level film. Dipping here and there into individual subjects, but never sticking to anything in particular, as another plot point is just around the corner. If you’re a fan of the music, watch and enjoy. If you like watching people argue over money, watch and enjoy, but don’t go to expect a hard look on current society as it’s been promoted. It is a rags to riches story, not a cultural one.
Straight Outta Compton (2015), directed by F. Gary Gray, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures. Certificate 15.