The appeal of the recent biopic “Straight Outta Compton” comes from its momentum. “Straight Outta Compton” is unlike typical frenzied biographical movies that jump from one event to the next in order to showcase the subject’s entire life within a limited timeframe. Unfortunately, these films often sacrifice depth for breadth, leaving many moviegoers entertained but unsatisfied.
There are exceptions, of course — “Malcolm X” effectively summarized the events of the activist’s life and “Schindler’s List” wisely zoomed in on Schindler’s life during the height of Nazi Germany’s atrocities. While “Straight Outta Compton” is not an exception to the hectic nature of biopics, it manages to maintain originality and ingenuity through its high energy and impressive execution.
“Straight Outta Compton” tracks the rise and fall of the highly influential gangster rap group N.W.A., focusing on its three most enduring members: Eazy E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The movie is undeniably unpolished, and its pacing is erratic, both spatially and temporally. The movie constantly jumps between the perspectives of the three characters, which is worsened by the fact that they are not physically together during the majority of the movie. Months and years zip by in minutes, and by the time the movie is over, so is N.W.A. Structurally speaking, “Straight Outta Compton” is nothing special. Then, what makes this otherwise mundane biopic stand out? The answer lies in its sheer energy. It’s an energy found first in the actors and then in the movie’s presentation. The main actors — and a few cameos — are able to synchronize completely with their characters.
They are invested in their roles, so much that when the movie cuts back to Ice Cube’s studio troubles after having just portrayed Dr. Dre’s issues at home, we don’t question the odd pacing of the movie. Instead, due to the actors’ genuine skills, we simply assume that we haven’t seen Ice Cube for a while. In my opinion, actor O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Ice Cube, is the standout star of the film. The praise may be slightly unfair because after all, O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s father is none other than Ice Cube himself. Not only does he look the part, but he also has had his entire lifetime to prepare for this role.
Also, Ice Cube co-produced the film with Dr. Dre and spent extra time to coach his son on his own mannerisms, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s explosive fidelity to his role clearly demonstrates this.
In the movie, there are particular moments that are filled with extra energy. For instance, there is a concert in the middle of the plot that evokes pure vitality. It is the convergence of the racial tensions that have been brewing in the area, the N.W.A.’s trouble with the law enforcement and the peak of the group’s solidarity. Through what must have been a costly and painstaking effort to bring realism to this scene, the producers allow the scene to truly come to life. Each actor is lost to the pure energy of the audience in the venue and it is as if there are no actors, but only N.W.A. Although the scene is ultimately cut short for the movie to progress, it hits all the right emotional beats, and the rest of the film is colored by a longing for that magical moment to return. It’s this scene that holds the movie together, and it does so with the same energy that burns in each of the characters.
“Straight Outta Compton” is far from a perfect film. However, by its brute force of energy, the movie overcomes its problems and comes alive.