Directed by F. Gary Gray. Produced by Ice Cube, Tomica Woods-Wright, Matt Alvarez, F. Gary Gray, Scott Bernstein, and Dr. Dre. Written by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. Release date: August 14, 2015.
Despite only being around for half a decade and releasing two albums, hip hop group N.W.A. is arguably one of the most influential groups of its kind in history. It was controversial, it was free-speaking, and it really, really hated the police. It helped establish and popularize the subgenre of gangsta rap, it contained extremely profane and violent lyrics, and it established the careers of a couple of big-name entertainers like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. It's almost a little surprising that the story of its members hasn't before been made into a feature film. With Straight Outta Compton, also the title of the group's debut album, now it has.
The story follows the group's creation in the late 1980s up until approximately 1995, after it was, for all intents and purposes, already over. The story is just slightly better than your typical rags-to-riches-to-trouble one: A few guys from Compton, CA get together, start a hip hop group, get famous way faster than they anticipated, and then start to have issues with the fame, authority, and with each other. Given that it's based on real events, and because it follows a pretty strict formula, you're likely going to be able to see where it goes from start to finish.
Does Straight Outta Compton's predictability hamper how incredible a film it is? The answer to that is an emphatic "no." Despite running for over 140 minutes, featuring a cast of actors you've never heard of (and Paul Giamatti) and a director who's never made a good movie, Straight Outta Compton is a marvelous film. It's entertaining, it's insightful, it's funny, it has great music, it has fantastic acting, and despite being based around the year 1990, it feels unbelievably relevant when it comes to many of the issues we're still facing today.
See, one of the biggest things that drove N.W.A. was the brutality and abuse from police officers toward black Americans. We see it several times throughout Straight Outta Compton - both on the television with the Rodney King case and first-hand to several of the group's members - and it becomes clear exactly from whence the anger in the lyrics was derived. And given some of the recent events we've seen in the news, Straight Outta Compton makes us remember that these issues aren't over. It feels relevant now to watch the struggles from almost 30 years earlier.