Boyz n the Hood – Many will see the word ‘boyz’ and think it’s just a clever way of saying boys. And while that’s mostly true, it probably would have never stuck around had it not been for the rap group N.W.A. and Eazy E’s debut hit ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood.’ This simple play on words, along with some crafty lyrics was the crux behind gangsta rap which after a brief introduction in the late 80s became widely popular in the 90s thanks to N.W.A. alums Ice Cube, Eazy E and Dr. Dre. “Straight Outta Compton” not only shows the rise and fall of this hip hop sub-genre, it shows the all-too revealing culture behind it.
What’s it about? It all begins sometime in 1987 where a group of friends from Compton decide to put their heads together and form N.W.A. The hope was to tell “their” story about living and growing up in Compton, one of the most treacherous neighborhoods in the U.S. It was raw and nothing like anyone had heard before, but the more beats Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) spun, the more confident they all got with what they were doing. And slowly people started to take notice, beginning what appeared to be some underground movement against society and those authorities trying to bring them down. At the center was Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), who trusted his friends Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dre to show him why slinging rhymes was better than slinging dope. So they did and the next thing they knew, Eazy E and N.W.A. were entertaining crowds all over the country. But, as quick as they grabbed success, they also found a number of obstacles to deal with ultimately leading to the eventual disbanding. Stuck between their pride and the law, they each struggled to find their way back to stardom which although similar somehow felt completely different until one final moment of clarity they would never forget.
Who was in it? For once we have a film where the characters’ names are bigger than the actor playing them. That’s big and why I think this cast seemed to work so well together within the script redrafted by Jonathan Herman. Because as much as you may have wanted to see the real Ice Cube or Dr. Dre, they are too old to be playing themselves in a story taking place nearly 25 years ago. Instead we get the likes of Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O’Shea Jackson, who all did a fantastic job portraying these iconic minister’s of gangsta rap. Especially Mitchell, who was tasked with playing the often overzealous yet misunderstood Eazy E. What a job and one that truly deserves praise given how important the role was to the film. His interaction with Hawkins and Jackson was flawless making you wonder why we haven’t seen him before. As for Mitchell, who played Dr. Dre, all I can say is nice work. Anyone given that role needs to be on point, given all that Dre was and still is to his industry. Finally there was O’Shea Jackson, who played his father Ice Cube. After realizing you were not watching Ice Cube, you start to appreciate what the young Jackson was able to do each and every time he entered the frame.
It’s a G-thing – It’s been awhile since we have seen a film like “Straight Outta Compton.” You know, one of those origins stories that almost is too honest. It actually reminds me of the John Singleton classic “Boyz n the Hood,” which ironically is tied to this film through one of its characters. That’s high praise given what Singleton did and has done with his films over the years, so I give director F. Gary Gary a lot of credit for what he was able to do. Allowing his cast to essentially feel their way through this script was brilliant given the challenging times this story took place in. By showing so many ups and downs, you really were able to see what N.W.A and more importantly Dr. Dre and Ice Cube had to fight through in order to find success. I just wish Gary wouldn’t have left it all in, as the 146-minute running time was tough to handle at times. That said, it still kept my interest thanks to the constant flow of music that accompanies this film; music that I couldn’t help but bob my head to and lip sync, taking me back to my own childhood when I first heard N.W.A.
Bottom Line – Many won’t know what to make of “Straight Outta Compton,” but oddly I think that’s the point. As a society, we tend to shy away from some of life’s harsh truths, like what is portrayed in this film. So I commend director F. Gary Gary for giving it to us straight, just as N.W.A. did each and every time they walked on stage back in the day.
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