August 24, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Ice Cube's son O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, and a guy who looks nothing like Snoop Dogg

This movie couldn't have come at a better time. Between the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, this Confederate flag bullsh*t, and whatever the hell is still going on in Ferguson, this country feels like it's on the brink of another riot circa 1992 LA. This movie does a good job of showcasing just a taste of what it can be like growing up black in a poor neighborhood. Is this a movie? Yes. Do I feel their experience with law enforcement is exaggerated? Not one bit.

I didn't grow up black. Nor did I grow up poor. Or listening to rap music, for that matter, so I don't have quite the same connection to N.W.A's music as I'm sure many other people do. But I can say that I'm not sure I've ever felt quite so hyped in a movie than when they sang F*ck Tha Police in Joe Louis Arena after being explicitly told not to. I have a lot of strong opinions about social justice and the treatment of minorities in this country and I felt like this one moment in the movie encapsulated the frustration, anger, and defiance of our corrupt system so many of us feel. I'm not saying the rappers in the movie are necessarily heroes or role models--but they were in that moment.

The movie covers a lot of ground, so some of the finer details are missed. For instance, how does Dre suddenly know how to use a producer's sound board? How did Eazy-E suddenly learn how to rap in the span of one day? Did they all drop out of school? What happened with the FBI case? Where the hell is Dre's baby mama? How did Dre even know Suge Knight? If anyone watching this didn't already know the broad strokes of N.W.A's history, I imagine some of this would be rather confusing. Then again, I'm not sure if anyone who wasn't already at least acquainted with N.W.A would watch this in the first place.

Biographies are tough. They are even tougher when the subjects of them are still alive. It's sort of obvious that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube produced this movie because they managed to make their characters with the least amount of flaws. To be fair, Ice Cube does seem to the cleanest of the three, with no history selling drugs like Eazy-E or beating up women like Dr. Dre. And considering his recent image of an All-American family man in ridiculous movies like Are We There Yet?, it's almost strange to see him back in the 80's and 90's as an angry, sometimes violent teenager. (Side note: Ice Cube is portrayed by his son, who looks so much like him I didn't realize it wasn't actually him until the movie started and noticed his son lacks Cube's signature angry eyes.)

Dr. Dre is another matter. He has a sordid history of violence toward women, beating up three I can name off the top of my head. Did the movie mention this? Of course not. The worst the movie shows is Dre watching Suge Knight beat someone with the butt of his gun over a parking spot. Then continues to work with Suge. Sure, sure, they split up later (and if my own memory serves correct, quite contentiously), but being a quiet accomplice to Suge Knight's insanity is not on the same level as slamming a reporter's head against a wall because you're displeased with an interview she did. I mention this incident because the director's excuse for not including it was because he thought it was a "side story" that didn't fit with the overall plot. Except that this interview was right after Ice Cube left NWA and would have fed directly into the plot when the artists were releasing dis songs about each other. But you know, distractions.

It's hard to know just how accurately Eazy-E's story was portrayed, since he's not around to confirm or contradict it. But what is clear (to me, anyway) is that Ice Cube was the most talented one and also the one who got the most screwed. So I guess I forgive him for making three Friday sequels because hell, I'm happy he's making as much money as he is. He deserves it. 

Final word: Maybe it's a vanity piece, but it's one worth watching--especially right now.

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