STORY BY ERIC DEUTZ
I often times associate myself with those who dub themselves, ‘90s kids’.
I remember playing Kid Pix, watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and eating Dunkaroos as much as the next college student who can’t let go of the past.
But in reality, I turned 6 years old at the turn of the century, and my recollection of events in the 1990s more important than my Pokémon cards are very much lost to me.
This means the legacy of N.W.A. and its most prominent members, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre is something I knew very little about coming into my viewing of “Straight Outta Compton.”
But, I’d heard from those older than me how unique they were, how terrifying their music, and how bold their statement. And for a time, the film offers a frighteningly realistic portrait of what reality was like for these innovators, and why it was so necessary that they fight back.
Unfortunately, the film never really figures out how to tie itself together, and it ends up falling back on clichés and repetitiveness when it finds it has nowhere else to go.
“Straight Outta Compton” tells the story of a group of men raised in Compton, California, knowing very little outside of the violence and drugs that were as common on their streets as anxious college students biking furiously to get to their next class are on the street outside my University Avenue apartment. (That is to say, very common.)
These men only ever gave themselves one option: to use their pent-up frustration, as well as their love of music, to bring nationwide attention to their situation. And eventually, fame found them.
But as so often happens, once money is brought into the picture, the group’s members start turning on each other, and this cultural phenomenon formerly known as N.W.A. (which stands for… something that would never get past my editor, so you’ll have to Google it) was taken from us long before their message stopped being necessary.
The first 30 minutes of this film are every bit as visceral and hard-hitting as this young group of west coast rappers were themselves. Well-executed cinematography and editing makes the opening drug bust scene feel more like a video game than real life, and it makes one think, “Do people really live like this in the real world? Is this truly someone’s reality?”
Yes, and for those of us privileged enough to never have experienced such things, the film does an excellent job of setting us up in a world that we need to be aware exists.
This is their story, shown to us through their eyes, and the young actors cast to portray them are all in, right from the beginning (especially Jason Mitchell portraying Eazy-E, who is responsible for many of the film’s best moments, both comedic and heart-breaking).
But unfortunately, once the band makes it big and the police protests are over, director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen) doesn’t know how to sustain his film as the characters split up, and we’re forced to try to follow several severely uninteresting storylines at the same time.
Compton offers a beautifully well-fitting tribute to its subjects at the end, and boasts a naturally strong soundtrack throughout.
But all in all, it never finds a way to rise very high above being just another story of a band ruined by fame – and a group as important as this one deserves better.