I’m a big fan of the “based on a true story” genre. (I suspect it makes me feel like I’m watching something more academic than purely entertaining.) So, since I heard a lot of great things about STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON I decided to give it a whirl.
With movies like this in particular, similar to Eminem’s EIGHT MILE, it’s important to separate a movie review from a life review. What I mean is that there are lots of things to criticize about the real-life subjects of this movie. In recent years Ice Cube has worked hard to brand himself as a fun-loving actor with a nickname to match. However, going back to his N.W.A years, his attitude is anything but family-friendly.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is about N.W.A, a group that pioneered the gangster rap genre. Now, just by looking at straight-laced little me, you would have to work pretty hard to imagine that I typically listen to gangster rap. Every song I’ve ever heard by N.W.A was during the movie and every bit of information I learned came from a combination of the movie and some Googling around afterwards.
I thought the movie was well done. It’s good if you want to learn more about the group like I did, or if you already like the group, it’s interesting to see their take on their own lives since Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were two of the movie’s producers. The acting was good—dare I say even better than expected with an Oscar for Paul Giamatti?—and they stuck close to actual events. Tweaks in the storyline were minimal and didn’t bother me when I thought back over them in retrospect. Although the movie was long, it didn’t feel that way and when it ended I actually wanted more. Those are all signs of a great movie.
My biggest criteria for evaluating a movie is usually how I feel walking out of the theatre. That’s a bit of a trickier answer this time around. While I didn’t leave feeling like I’d seen something uplifting—and kudos to EIGHT MILE for pulling off that amazing feat—I didn’t leave feeling down, either; numb is too harsh. At best (or worst?) I’d say I left feeling contemplative, struggling internally with judging the movie aside from judging the men it was based on.
For all of these reasons, I’d suggest checking out STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. Plus, as a former marketing executive myself, I also can’t help but give them “bonus points” for their marketing campaign. Allowing general use of the movie’s logo gave the movie an added viral marketing effect that was pretty amazing. I can’t imagine it would have been #1 at the box office otherwise.
I can’t close this movie review, though, without reflecting on the real-life exploits of the movie’s stars—Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and the others. It’s well and good to watch the movie and feel angry at the police or think that one of the characters who gets beaten up is just getting what’s coming to him. That’s what we tend to think when we watch “general” action movies with bad guys like in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise, right? This is different, though. This is a movie based on true events.
I’m not denying that there are corrupt police officers, but the members of N.W.A. were actually out committing crimes and getting arrested despite their “we’re innocent” act with the police officers. (I also can’t help but think Ice Cube and Dr. Dre still resent Eazy-E even in death because he was the only character who was introduced negatively. He was selling drugs while Ice Cube was riding a school bus and Dr. Dre was listening to music.) In the early days of N.W.A. and the Rodney King beating, the officers in Compton would have been scared for their lives on a daily basis and writing them all off as corrupt is too much of a stretch for me. Heck, if I have to go into Compton nowadays I’m scared and this is 30 years later!
As for the fights in this movie, the really scary part is that these are based on true stories. Eazy-E was beaten to a pulp. Suge Knight is sitting in jail for killing someone associated with this very movie because he didn’t like how he was portrayed. This movie isn’t making bad boys seem nice but reminding all of us that these reformed (?) rappers are not very nice at all.
In what I thought was one of the scariest scenes in the movie because of the sheer intimidation factor—and which was an actual occurrence in real life—Ice Cube destroys an executive’s office with a metal baseball bat. Maybe this struck me the hardest because I’ve only experienced the Ice Cube as he has branded himself lately: actor, comedian, family man. He was a very different man in the days of N.W.A. and that takes some time to reconcile.
No doubt there are bad and scary people in the world. But, embracing them and what they stand for is a very different story. Or kind of movie.
*Want to see something similar? Visit Amazon.com to get your copy of EIGHT MILE about rapper Eminem.