Film Thoughts: Straight Outta Compton

A magnificent film, masterfully handled. With the wild lives and bold proclamations of the characters involved, Compton could’ve easily fallen into cliche or scenes similar to those from hip-hop parody Fear of a Black Hat. Another rap biopic, Notorious, fell into a trap of cringeworthy lines that Compton manages to sidestep

There are a million good touches in this film. One of my favourites is extending the scene where the remaining NWA members listen to Ice Cube diss them on the song No Vaseline. Many directors would’ve shortened that scene to keep up the pace. But letting it run not only lets the viewer hear more of the lyrics, but magnifies the feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment felt by the group

Suge Knight’s threat to Eazy, “Don’t make me change you, Eric”, seems like such a weird thing to say. Unless you’re aware of the theory that Suge had Eazy injected with AIDS

The cast: all of NWA were solid. Eazy was the stand out as Jason Mitchell made him so likeable. Unexpectedly, Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller was the least realistic of the core group. That said, his final scene (where Eazy reveals he knows the truth about their finances) was his best moment. I suspect there was improvisation involved there, which helped.

R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight was the most uneven performance. At times, he got Knight’s menace, but at others he was goofy and non-threatening. That’s a tough casting call though, finding someone with Suge’s heft who can also envoke his other similarities.

2Pac appears. My thought process:

‘Holy shit, that guy looks really like 2Pac. Did they somehow cut real footage of him through this? Is it actually 2Pac? Did he fake his death so he could come back 19 years later in a small role in a film that’s not about him?

I wish the film had found some way to avoid ‘Pac talking to Dre, because that was the only time the actor didn’t seem like a clone

Some minor quibbles:

The film loses steam towards the end. In some ways it has to, as the timeline moves past the energy of peak NWA-era madness and the post-breakup disses, into the group members reconciling and Eazy’s illness. There needs to be decompression towards the end, but there’s possibly too much.

The film’s first act suggests the group — with the exception of Eazy — are mostly good people who just live in bad areas. So there’s a jarring transition from those characters to the type who pull guns on people in a hotel corridor and laugh about it seconds later. Dre isn’t disturbed by a guy arriving at his hotel door with a gun. But the preceding scenes make it seem like he would be

Compton doesn’t fully trust his audience. What could be subtle shots are focused on for longer than necessary. During the LA riots, Blood and Crips unite, symbolised by red and blue scarves knotted together. We don’t need to cut back to that image a second time, this time in close-up in case we didn’t get it. Or making sure we notice a huge poster for Dre’s post-NWA album The Chronic. Cube says ‘You got knocked the fuck out’ while sitting at a laptop. It would’ve been nice to leave that there for the knowledgeable viewer to recognise the line as a quote from Friday, the film he wrote the screenplay for, without having his wife mention the title.

Small, picky things. Watch Straight Outta Compton, it’s tremendous.

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