|'Both breathtakingly cinematic and intimately authentic any time Gray places us in an arena with the superstar rappers'.|
For a film to offer one fresh new talent to look out for is generally an exciting prospect. For it to mark out at least three, as Straight Outta Compton does, is truly special. In casting Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube respectively, director F. Gary Gray ensures his biopic focusing on the career of influential rap group N.W.A. consistently has an impressive core around which to build a wholly satisfying film.
Each of the young actors is impressive in his own way. Hawkins brings a pleasing understated quality to André "Dr. Dre" Young, for much of the film, making it all the more effective on the handful of occasions he demonstrates more heightened emotions. Jackson Jr. proves early on that placing him in the role of his father is more than just stunt casting, consistently bringing passion and vibrancy to his portrayal of Ice Cube. Perhaps most impressive of the three, however, is Mitchell as Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy-E, believably taking the rapper on arguably the most significant journey of the whole film through a performance sure to mark him out for future leading man status.
Together, the trio of young actors share terrific chemistry, from three friends growing up in Compton and the beginnings of N.W.A. through their rise to stardom and notoriety and their eventual split. The support throughout is also solid, with Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown Jr. satisfyingly rounding out the remaining two members of the group as MC Ren and DJ Yella respectively. Paul Giamatti is also reliably strong as manager Jerry Heller, bringing a pleasing variety of light and dark shades to a role which easily could have become the pantomime villain of the piece.
Gray consistently ensures his strong cast are never reduced to providing a string of empty imitations, positioning Straight Outta Compton as a film of power throughout. The director lays bare the prejudice inherent within the US police force at the time, particularly during the Los Angeles set first act. Gray never wants us to feel sorry for any of his subjects, but he does want us to understand where the attitude in N.W.A. originally germinated. This is perhaps never more apparent than during the film's concert scenes, which are some of the very strongest Straight Outta Compton has to offer. Confident direction and artful camerawork mean that the experience is both breathtakingly cinematic and intimately authentic any time Gray places us in an arena with the superstar rappers.
The scope of Straight Outta Compton is perhaps the film's greatest issue. Even at nearly two-and-a-half hours, Gray is cramming a great deal into his running time. The film also lacks a properly established female character - André's mother Verna (Lisa Renee Pitts) offers an early candidate, but barely features beyond the opening few scenes - leaving women disappointingly represented by sex object groupies and undeveloped romantic interests. Gray also takes a late misstep in his focus on Eazy-E's HIV diagnosis, slowing matters and overdoing the sentiment a little too much, as well as opting for the unoriginal method of having Mitchell cough in every other scene to let us know he's unwell.
But, whilst there are issues, they are comfortably outweighed by Straight Outta Compton's positives. With a strong cast, assured direction and continuing historic relevance, Gray's film undoubtedly deserves recognition as one of the strongest entries into the biopic genre in recent years.