Cultural and socially relevant, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is a solid work


Straight Outta Compton

BVerdict: Despite not being free from flaws and exaggerations, Straight Outta Compton is a positive step for African American history in film.


In 1989, Spike Lee released a masterpiece, “Do the Right Thing”, where race, violence, love and hate boiled up in a hot summer day and generated an unforgettable film.

Is “Straight Outta Compton” equally unforgettable? Some may attempt to answer, but run the risk of either under or overestimating it. It is possible to say that the film itself is neither extraordinary nor bad. The most appropriate answer right now is that, culturally, this new work could be an open door for others to follow, which is a good thing.

“Straight Outta Compton” tells the story of NWA, a hip hop group that revolutionized the genre in the late 1980s. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy E were some of the famous names in this group. The movie chronicles their rise to success and their up-and-down relationship when beginning to ascend to the top of music charts.

The movie does a good job in portraying the highly charged social relations of that time, similarly to what Lee did in 1989. Two years later, police brutality against the African American man Rodney King in 1991 sparked riots. The movie director, F. Gary Gray, brings in actual footage from that attack, placing it on TV sets being watched by the characters.

The footage is well-used, as it helps develop the characters in the film, instead of just being placed randomly. In one scene, the disgust of Eazy E is clear as he watches the news story about King. This interweaving of reality and a fictional recreation of these music icons is balanced and never overdone.

Speaking about characters, their development is good throughout the film. It is clear, for example, when a nuanced Eazy E (played by Jason Mitchell) goes from nothing to success while trying to balance money and friendships. His conflicts are well-portrayed as viewers see him struggle to make a difference in the world, but also make several mistakes as well.

Likewise, the camera tends to be handheld and jerky, which shows these imperfect characters’ living situations, which are harsh and unfair, while striving to bring about change. This type of photography – such as in the opening scenes when police abuse their power over Ice Cube – adds a layer of realism to the film. These imperfections – not typical of Hollywood films – remind viewers that what is shown is real and must be fixed.

The greatest sin of “Straight Outta Compton”, however, is the excess. At 147 minutes, the movie is almost half-an-hour longer than average. This excessive time dilutes the film’s message, as the second half drags on for too long. Ironically, key confrontation scenes against the police escalate too quickly. They rely on the audience’s preconceived notions of who’s right and who’s wrong without making too much effort in building tension or suspense.

“Straight Outta Compton” is an important film, culturally, which shouldn’t be confused as a very good movie. It is, instead, a good film plagued by a few exaggerations and a story where some “villains” – cops – are not built as characters, but more as mere figures in a documentary. If the film, however, opens the door for more African American stories in Hollywood, it can be considered a good step in the right direction.