Straight Outta Compton (4 stars)

Straight Outta Compton

Pulsating and punchy NWA biopic from F Gary Gray, with Paul Giamatti

There aren’t many albums influential enough to build a movie around, but NWA’s 1988 classic Straight Outta Compton is undoubtedly one of them. Directed by F Gary Gray (Friday, Law Abiding Citizen), this biopic shows how Ice Cube (uncannily played by his son O’Shea Jackson Jr), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) and Eazy-E (an excellent Jason Mitchell) came from the streets of Compton to record one of the angriest records since the Sex Pistols spat out Never Mind the Bollocks.

The early scenes are pulsating, whether it’s the fledgling group laying down rhymes, or enduring random acts of police brutality in this cauldron of social unrest. With the fallout from the Rodney King beatings building in the background, it’s a potent portrait of recent LA history, right up there with the Cube-starring Boyz n the Hood for its electric depiction of urban violence. Likewise, it rivals Curtis Hanson’s Eminem semi-bio 8 Mile for showing hip-hop as a means of escape and expression.

The film wisely finds its emotional through-line in Eazy-E’s arc, as he goes from leader to outcast to fallen hero, while Paul Giamatti, as the group’s shady, contract-wrangling manager Jerry Heller, adds a stamp of star quality. But the second half feels both bloated and disjointed, as we watch the group disintegrate, Cube and E get into a war of words and Dre hooks up with the menacing Suge Knight (R Marcos Taylor) to form Death Row Records.

With Dre’s reported reputation for violence against women avoided, the film’s loss of focus sees it turn into a brief history of West Coast hip-hop, with needless pop-ups by young actors playing Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. The end credits even squeeze in real footage of Dre protégés Eminem and 50 Cent. Is this a film about Dre or NWA? At points Gray seems unsure. But, these issues aside, Straight Outta Compton is punchy, provocative and packed with attitude.

General release from Fri 28 Aug.

Straight Outta Compton

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 26min
  • 15
  • Directed by: F Gary Gray
  • Cast: Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr
  • UK release: 28 August 2015

Biopic of rap group NWA, focusing on the recording of their debut album, their subsequent fallings-out and eventual disintegration. Mitchell is excellent as Eazy-E and despite some second-half problem, it's punchy, provocative and packed with attitude, worthy of comparison with the similarly themed Boyz n the Hood and 8…