Reel Shorts | Straight Outta Compton


The highly-anticipated story of the rise and subsequent fall of the “World’s Most Dangerous Group,” N.W.A. is gloriously and lovingly recreated by director F. Gary Gray in the winning hip-hop biopic, Straight Outta Compton.

Spotlighting a ten-year period from 1986 to 1996, Straight Outta Compton primarily focuses on three friends, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) and O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) who just wanted to tell their story with hopes of just being “local ghetto superstars,” but became so much more. While their motivation was improving their lot and escaping the hood, the constant specter of police harassment and intimidation from the law enforcement community also helped fuel their rage and their art.

Before they would become West Coast gangsta rap legends, Dre was a hot local deejay for The World Class Wrecking Crew, Eric was a local drug dealer and Cube was filling up a book of rhymes with the tales of Compton. Fueled by Dre’s vision, he recruits Eazy to invest in his fledgling enterprise to create their own label, Ruthless Records. Dre and his Wrecking Crew DJ partner Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown, Jr.) also rocks with local rapper and lyricist Cube, who supplies the lyrics. Rounding out the classic lineup is Eazy’s friend and fellow rapper/lyricist, Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge).

After the surprise success of Eazy-E’s hit single, Boyz in the Hood, manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) shows up and he and Eazy sign a deal for him to manage the group with his questionable business tactics laying the foundation that would tear away the fabric of N.W.A. Despite his reputation, the filmmakers treat Heller’s character with respect – initially – until his treachery and deceit are exposed.

The best moments in the film are the behind-the-scenes interactions where their humor, bravado, and vulnerabilities are exposed. Gray juggles all of these emotions seamlessly mixing plenty of dramatic scenes, lots of humor (courtesy mainly of DJ Yella) and some true emotional scenes that will rock you to the core.

The film also continues to follow both Dre and Cube after the dissolution of the group as they pridefully relish in the achievements of each other, while wondering what could have been. “We left a whole lot of hits on the table,” Cube remarks to his wife during a moment of reflection. That sentiment also adds to the emotional third act as cooler heads finally prevailed and the friends contemplate revisiting that golden era.

Unlike the biopic of the Notorious B.I.G., Notorious, Straight Outta Compton is a film that works for both hardcore fans and the uninitiated. For those who are familiar with the story, the film is not a documentary and there are incidents that have been slightly altered or condensed for the sake of creating a dramatic story. Screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff deserve a great deal of credit for extracting and creating a highly watchable, fun and at times, emotional story.

Gray gets top-notch performances from the three main leads Mitchell, Hawkins, and Jackson. They each capture the essence, emotion and the brotherhood of their characters. While Hawkins and Jackson capture the spirit in their portrayals, Mitchell’s work is especially noteworthy. His portrayal of Eazy is at the emotional center of the film and a lesser actor’s work could easily have given the film a “made-for-television quality,” but Mitchell consistently strikes the right tone and makes the audience care about this fallen star. Giamatti also gives a solid performance playing a complex character that easily could have been a caricature.

While not a perfect film, ultimately Straight Outta Compton is an outstanding and seminal cinematic contribution by Gray. The film is a story of wasted potential – and second chances, which show that while N.W.A.’s run was short, they accomplished their mission of becoming ghetto superstars, worldwide while remaining the World’s Most Dangerous Group!!!

Grade A