American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
“Straight Outta Compton” is a biopic with unexpected, seemingly conflicting goals. It aims not only to raise your ire, but to also break your heart. It is as engaged with its well-executed action scenes as it is with its moments of tenderness and quiet. It is unrepentant in its anger and its amorality, leaving the audience to pass its own judgement and calibrate its own outrage. The filmmakers have made a fiercely political movie that’s an equally fierce “talk back to the screen”-style crowd-pleaser for folks eager to hear the tale of an influential rap group. “Straight Outta Compton” is a reminder that the biopic genre held the patent on the cinematic origin story long before the Marvel Universe; it plays like a Marvel superhero movie had Marvel been run by Suge Knight.
This film’s Guardians of the West Coast Rap Galaxy are the original members of N.W.A., MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr, doing a great job playing his Dad). We follow them from their humble beginnings to the height of their fame, stopping along the way to hit the expected milestones and musical cues. While “Straight Outta Compton” samples the familiar biopic beats, it surprises by spitting some new lyrics atop them. There’s a lot more complexity here, both in the storytelling and the occasional shifts in tone. Sometimes the film looks like a rap video, filling the screen with scantily clad women and bling. At other times, it evokes an almost meta recreation of '90s dramas like “Boyz N The Hood,” which was shot in the same city with one of this film’s characters.
The release of “Straight Outta Compton” coincides with the 27th anniversary of the eponymous debut album. Ushering in the era of gangsta rap, the album earned millions of fans and hearty record sales, opening the floodgates for West Coast rappers. The record also quickly courted controversy with its profane, violent lyrics, earning one of Tipper Gore’s “parental advisory” labels and a threatening letter from the F.B.I. The fed’s involvement had to do with “Straight Outta Compton”’s controversial second track, a rather stinging commentary on law enforcement interaction with the minority community entitled “Fuck Da Police”.
Screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff invoke the old adage that rap music is “CNN for brown people” by fearlessly presenting the environment that fostered that song. There will be many thinkpieces written about the depiction of the LAPD in “Straight Outta Compton,” and the film makes no apologies for drawing a correlation between events that transpired almost 30 years ago and the events we hear about today on an almost daily basis. The most subversive scene in “Straight Outta Compton”’s first half depicts the angry response of the group’s manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) to his talent’s treatment by the cops. Heller lashes the officers with a fury his charges would not dare to emulate, and the film makes the audience consider that Heller might unintentionally get N.W.A. imprisoned or shot.