In Straight Outta Compton, Gray takes a marathon, two-and-a-half hour look at the formation, hey-day and aftermath of one of the most influential rap groups of all time. Despite its epic runtime, the film flies by, leaving me actually wanting even more (hopefully, we get a director’s cut; the original version was a full three-and-a-half hours and I’m down for it). From the opening sequence, a tense drug deal involving Eazy-E, to the devastating ending, the film is gripping. The performances are astounding. O’Shea Jackson Jr. is the spitting image of his dad and gives a performance that gets every little detail right and yet goes beyond imitation. Corey Hawkins is a fantastic Dre. And, best of all in my opinion, Jason Mitchell gives us the film’s most compelling journey as Eazy. Paul Giamatti, apparently becoming the go-to guy for “dude with ridiculous hair in a music movie” after this and Love & Mercy from earlier this year, is excellent as always as manager Jerry Heller. Keith Stanfield is great in his small part as Snoop Dogg. And R. Marcos Taylor is terrifying as unhinged and erratic Suge Knight, the film’s villain to the degree it has one. The music is obviously fantastic; enough said about that. The story isn’t anything new; in fact, it’s one of the oldest stories around: the search for fame/success/money/whatever destroys what really matters and does not bring happiness. It’s a quintessentially American tragedy, as a matter of fact, but it’s rarely been done better than it’s done here. The movie is really about the relationship between Dre, Cube & Eazy, a relationship more like a brotherhood than a friendship and how money, fame and success is possible for them only at the cost of that close bond. The way these three men fracture and break apart is deeply tragic and the film is really an exploration of the sorrow of losing your closest friends and comrades and the even deeper sorrow of waiting too long to attempt to heal those relationships. It’s a deeply emotional, deeply effecting movie; I wonder if some gang-banger tough-guys might have been surreptitiously wiping their eyes at the end of the film – I know I was. I do kind of wish the last two scenes had been switched in order. The final scene feels a bit like an anti-climax, coming after the intense catharsis of the previous scenes. I think the final scene would have played just as well coming before the ultimate ending to Eazy’s story and it would have allowed the film to end on the incredible pain and catharsis of that moment. I don’t know if it’s a spoiler, twenty years after it actually happened, but I’ll leave that climax ambiguous just in case some people don’t know. Still, that’s a small gripe and in a film this gripping, engaging, brilliantly performed, wonderfully scored and near perfect as this one, that can’t have any real effect on the cumulative effect of this masterpiece. 4 stars.
tl;dr – epic story of friendships forged and broken against the backdrop of great rap group’s history is amazingly acted, packed with great music, engaging and deeply emotionally effecting. 4 stars.