Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

*1/2 out of ****

Straight Outta Compton is the cinematic origin story following those who pioneered gangsta’ rap on the west coast. Unsurprisingly, F. Gary Gray, a director who can't think past conventional approaches, gives us a movie filled with the characteristics that I don’t typically enjoy in biopics –particularly the biopics attempting to cover the lives of multiple figures.

You don’t have to like hip-hop in order to appreciate this movie’s intentions. There's very little music from the genre that I truly like. However, I’ve always been infuriated by ignorance regarding the music’s existence. This movie is seeing success, because we still live in troubled times between citizens and law enforcement. The blatant brutal racism of the LAPD in the late eighties/early nineties is on display in the film and serves to remind us all of where the anger of these artists came from, and why it continues to this day.

The movie chronicles the glory, tragedy, and legacy of Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr. – Ice Cube’s son), Easy-E (Jason Mitchell), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) over 147 minutes of beautifully shot, decently acted material that is sadly unfocused in structure and boring in its dialogue. Other than the epic concert scenes, the re-enactments fail to be truly compelling and left me with a bigger appetite for something closer to the truth. When I can't tell the difference between the exaggerated stories and the true ones that are stranger than fiction, I find myself wishing that I was watching a documentary instead. 

I was convinced that I was watching a great movie at the beginning, but not too far in, I was losing interest due to its weak portrayal of the creative process. By the point the film was an hour in, and the lead characters were rolling in dough through the questionable advocacy of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) managing the group, I was annoyed by the tired old tale of business conflicts corrupting collaborative art. The movie hadn't even reached the halfway point and I was sure it was past the point of recovering all the atmosphere and emotion it began with... and that's a drag.

Ice Cube, Dre, and Tomica Woods-Wright (the widow of Easy-E) co-produced the film, and while this is evidence of a lack of objectivity, there shouldn't have been a problem in making an old rags-to-riches story seem interesting. David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin approached this kind of drama in the heavily embellished, yet seriously engrossing The Social Network and made it feel fresh. Straight Outta Compton also doesn't come as close to humanizing the seedy side of hip-hop in the way that the great fictional film, Hustle & Flow did.

Essentially, this movie is no different than one of those godawful network TV movies about Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Steve Jobs from the nineties; it's just more polished in appearance by a great cinematographer like Matthew Libatique and some very uncanny casting to match its subjects.

There is an enthusiastic audience for this film, prepared to forgive its dull stretches that turned me off - and some people who know nothing of N.W.A's history, who will find the film informative; but I don't think it's primed to be the Scorsese-inspired American epic it wants to. It's the music that this movie is about, which will continue to live on - and if I can give this film any credit; it gave the nostalgia for the music a little boost.

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