Fresh from a surprise two-week number one run at the US box office, gangsta rap biopic Straight Outta Compton**** cruises into the UK.
It’s the story of NWA, their formation and the making of the epochal Straight Outta Compton album back in 1988. And, as we critics like to say: this shit is dope. Put that on the poster.
Essentially, it’s a tale of ghetto friendship and naturally recalls 90s films such as Boyz n the Hood, which of course starred Ice Cube and took its name from NWA’s first single, by Eazy-E. This new work, with impressive production values and considerable style, has an eerie element in that Cube is played by his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr who gets his father’s strut and stare just right.
We follow the band through their formation, their police harassment, the beats, the involvement with white Jewish manager Jerry Heller (played, as all scene-stealing support roles must be these days, by Paul Giammatti).
We get the furore around the lyrics to Fuck the Police, and riots at a Detroit concert, as well as the ongoing social background dominated by the beating scandal of Rodney King by the LAPD.
The film’s skill weaves in the inspiration for songs and the creation of beats, with much hanging out in studios and pool parties and hotel orgies with gyrating girls (warning: there are no good parts for women here, just bikinis).
But it also sprawls like biopics can, taking in the splits, the arguments about money (which tend to dominate boringly in the latter stages) and the arrival of Suge Knight and his tough management style, conducted by baseball bat.
Directed by F Gary Gray, the film has verve and bounce and the performances are strong, particularly from Jackson and Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre, both of whom come out more heroically than the others – well, they did act as producers on the movie, which is dedicated to the memory of Easy-E, who died of HIV-related illnesses.
Despite the misogyny (a problem inherent with the music genre, and perpetuated by the movie) and the cliches, I enjoyed this a lot. It rocks and gets the energy of being on stage and in clubs. It gets the swagger of empowerment and the snarl of lyrical revenge on a politically prejudiced system.
It’s good to see this element of American music getting its big biopic treatment, and a suitably louche, epic and impactful cultural moment is recreated and immortalised on the big screen. Sure, there’ll be debates about its truth and who betrayed whom and who took the money and what really happened, but the movie suits the music and does it proud – it hits hard and right on the beats.