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Friday Film : STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON : film review

I once saw two drunk barristers arguing the merits of the west coast rap scene versus that of the East Coast. Gangsta, Gangsta, I tell you. More compelling than anything I’ve ever seen in court, it should be compulsory viewing on the Bar vocational course.

I hope those guys get to see Straight Outta Compton because it’s a good film. If the director had chopped half an hour off it in the editing room it could have been a great music biopic. Instead it can happily settle for being the highest grossing at the U.S. Box office.
Yes, this story of rap group NWA ( niggerz with attitude) whose best known song is Fuck tha police, is proving a box-office beast. It’s not a ‘crossover’ hit. It’s not curious mainstream audiences checking out what the fuss is about. It is a legitimate must see movie for the nostalgic – of all colours and backgrounds. NWA were huge in the late 80s, early 90s, and seeing their story on screen now is a harking back to a ‘simpler time’.
Except, of course no time is simple.
Easy E, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella came straight out of Compton with their songs precisely because their lives and times were not simple for them and young blacks like them.
Unlike many of their peers, however, these young men put their anger and frustration into music, became the furious voice of an era and have since gone on to become the elder statesmen of rap. Dr Dre is on his way to becoming a billionaire with his beats headphones and Ice Cube now makes family friendly comedies. Only founder Eazy E ( real name Eric Wright) didn’t live to see the legacy of his band. He died of aids at the age of 31 just before a planned reunion of the group after an acrimonious break- up.

There’s no doubt this film is the sanitized version of NWA but it works.
It has a relentless energy and excitement for the first two-thirds of the film that is hard to resist. The opening scenes are raw and compelling. The cast largely do a good job and look spookily like their real counterparts. Not surprisingly the screen Cube is a dead ringer for the original since he is the latter’s son. Jason Mitchel as Eazy has the best trajectory for an actor. He has to go from a drug dealing street hustler to a celebrity to a man dying from aids. Mitchel handles it very well and may be in the conversation for awards.
It has to be said though; there’s nothing in this film for female characters. Women exist but purely to move the story on for the men. There is also plenty of gratuitous female nudity but all the men seem able to have sex fully clothed.

What Straight outta Compton delivers very well, however, is the musical and social impact of five young, black men.

Yo Dre
What’s up Cube?
I got somethin’ to say

It’s worth listening to.

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