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Straight Outta Compton: A Biopic I can Get Behind

By Isaac Rosso Klakovich

Members of N.W.A from "Straight Outta Compton"
Members of N.W.A from “Straight Outta Compton”

Not everyone will want to download gangster rap after watching “Straight Outta Compton,” but everyone will walk away from this film respecting the members of N.W.A, an impressive feat considering many people might have seen their music as offensive before watching the film.

“Straight Outta Compton” chronicles the rise and fall on the iconic Compton based hip-hop group N.W.A, who brought their knowledge of life in the hood to creating one of the most influential music groups of the late 80s and early 90s. The group was comprised of members, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren.

The film is centered on Eazy-E, played by Jason Mitchell, who went from dealing drugs to creating the extremely successful Ruthless Records. What makes the portrayal of this character so interesting is how they illustrate his knowledge as a businessman. This is best displayed in his negotiations with his business partner, Jerry Heller, where we see Eazy recognize his value and use that as a bargaining tool to give him the upper hand.

Mitchell portrays all of this beautifully, with a performance that combines aspects of a cold and calculating man with that of a fun and friendly guy. This ability to put on a different face in every scene and still come off as genuine is incredible and something that you would only expect from a seasoned actor, not someone fairly new to acting.

With Mitchell and the rest of the cast being unknowns and all of them delivering great performances, it is clear that director F. Gary Gray is skilled at coaching actors. When inexperienced actors succeed it is usually due to the fact that they have a competent director who knows what he wants to get from every performance. It is clear in this film that Gray was able to articulate to every actor what he wanted in every scene. Still, it is apparent that all of the actors are very skilled and are not merely a product of Gray’s direction.

Gray’s skill as a director is not only visible in the film’s performances but also in his ability to shoot a scene. The concert scenes in particular are very well staged, especially in their use of foreground and background. There are many shots where there is a clear image of the foreground and a sea of people in the background. These shots capture the true immensity of what N.W.A had become. It is especially interesting when they juxtapose these shots with shots of N.W.A in the background and the crowd in the foreground because while the composition is different, it conveys the same theme.

Sadly, “Straight Outta Compton” isn’t without its flaws, most of which come from its structure. There is a nearly four-hour cut of the film, and this is apparent while watching it. Much of the film is choppy in that there isn’t a natural flow from scene to scene, especially when there are leaps in time. This is a problem that most biopics have because they have to cover a long period of time in only two hours, but here it is especially bad because there is so much going on plot-wise.

This problem only gets worse as the film progresses and N.W.A splits up and the viewer has to follow more and more storylines simultaneously. Not only are the transitions between these storylines unnatural, there isn’t enough time allotted to each of them. At times Ice Cube’s story takes a back seat, and then it is all about Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s storyline disappears.

It is clear while watching “Straight Outta Compton” that the film was a little too ambitious and had too much to cover. Still this is far better than most biopics, which usually contain great performances, but are completely devoid of ambition. “Straight Outta Compton” separates itself from its biopic counterparts by having something interesting to say about the importance of hip-hop and discussing issues that are still relevant today.

Star rating: three out of four stars

Photo courtesy of: http://blogs-images.forbes.com/scottmendelson/files/2015/08/LwoaE.jpg

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