***1/2 (out of five)
Rename this flick Straight Outta Compton: The Authorised Biopic of NWA, and you’ll have no problem slurping up its many pleasures. Any perceived oversights, white-washings and re-writings of history can be relegated to the internet, while up on the silver screen jazzy images, fine performances and awesome music can be smugly devoured.
Not that, even in this NWA fun-land, you’ll get a full blast of the boyz: Arabian Prince is written out completely and DJ Yella and MC Ren are essentially human props, acknowledged then forgotten. This is the story of Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, and those three get what I reckon may be contractually fulfilling exact equality of screen time. You’ve been watching Ice Cube work on his solo album for two and a half minutes? Let’s see what Dre’s up to for two and a half minutes!
It’s rags-to-riches, told with punch, gusto and not a little anger (and where in the world would an NWA pic be without some righteous anger?) The concert sequences are superb, supposedly extremely faithful to the original events – check out the clarity of the extras casting, with the stadium only getting black once the boyz get to Detroit; they may have been straight outta Compton, but their fans were straight outta the suburbs as much as any ‘hood.
Once riches are achieved (and riches are achieved incredibly quickly: Straight Outta Compton, the only album the whole original group worked on together, was an instant megahit), the boyz fracture and fight. A lot of the second half of the film is taken up with contract disputes, but, given those involve Suge Knight of Death Row Records, they’re more interesting than they sound. On a personal level, something happens to Eazy-E, which explains why his interests on the film are represented by his family, while Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are full-blown producers on the film.
Of course none of it would work without believable performances and the film’s got ‘em. With the best role and displaying the most acting chops, Jason Mitchell steals the show as Eazy-E, and I’m betting right now five large he’ll get an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor (five large is fifty bucks, right?) Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. is, well, born to play his dad and it’s uncanny and kind of spooky. Watch Boyz N The Hood on a monitor alongside this (once it’s on VOD) and get your wha?? on. Corey Hawkins makes the least impression as Dr. Dre but the role, as written, is the least interesting (and the most saintly, which makes it the least interesting).
Paul Giamatti plays the band’s manager Jerry Heller in a companion piece to his Dr. Eugene Landy in Love and Mercy; he’s dependably great, perhaps even a little better than his normal excellent self. It’s hard to mention any female performances because I can’t remember any; oh yeah, Dr. Dre’s mom (Lisa Renee Pitts) was okay… this is the Authorised NWA story, after all, and for a lot of those years, bitches weren’t the main event, they were more like dessert.
It’s a fun ride, clear, colourful and quite revealing, with some oddball humour; depressingly, its truth-telling about the LAPD in the ‘80s resonates loud and clear today, and not just confined to the cops in Los Angeles. Thankfully, the music sounds as fresh as the message.