‘Straight Outta Compton’
Director: F. Gary Gray
Stars: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell
3 (out of 5) Globes
Even a cheesy biopic about N.W.A. would be a political act. It means a band had gone from once being the scourge of the right-wing and of scolds in general to becoming official Great Men, their troubled story ready to become simple myth. For the record, “Straight Outta Compton” is only part cheese. There’s on-the-nose, clumsily expository dialogue, but only occasionally. Late in, someone asks Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, scarily Cube-like in part because he’s his real-life son) what he’s typing on an old-timey (read: mid-1990s) computer. “This script. It’s funny,” he says as he plans what will become “Friday.” The likes of Tupac, Snoop and even Bone Thugs are introduced as though they were lumbering statues being wheeled in, and soon before he’s diagnosed as HIV positive, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, also uncannily lifelike) lets out some of those telling, nudge-nudge-y movie coughs.
Every scene has at least one example of these, but they also have life and, especially in the galvanizing first half, real, furious anger. A typical scene mixes unsubtle dialogue with believable-sounding chatter. No matter how hard the script tries to artlessly name-drop basic facts or things to come, the movie, as directed by F. Gary Gray (of, as it were, “Friday,” as well as “The Italian Job”), has a lived-in groove, the actors doing their best to make even the stiffest line sound off-the-cuff. Moreover, it underlines what should have been clear from their songs — because the lyrics, you know, talked about it — but were often ignored, especially by those with power: that they weren’t thugs but artists trying to beam their message of desperation from an ignored chunk of the world to the masses.
That idea drives “Compton”’s stirring first half, which traces their rise in a scene that, as a club owner puts it, is about “p—y, not pistols.” They’re classic movie underdogs, beset upon by all sides — outliers in music and, worse, hounded by the police. In the film’s most harrowing scene, they’re abused by a rapper-hating black cop who, upon seeing their white agent, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), calls them “Uncle Toms,” not the other way around. This turns out to be one of those cliched genesis-of-the-piece-of-art scenes from biopics; immediately after they pile into the studio and record “F— Tha Police.” But it has an immediacy and a fury that saves it from cliche. It’s exactly the kind of scene that inspires one to blast “F— Tha Police”; here, our heroes go and create it.