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The UnPopular Opinion: Straight Outta Compton

08.10.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

A couple of weeks ago, HBO debuted a four part documentary called THE DEFIANT ONES. Following the rise and eventual partnership between music mogul Jimmy Iovine and hip hop legend Dr. Dre, the documentary was an incredibly engaging and engrossing look at the formation and collapse of N.W.A. directly from the mouths of those involved. You wouldn't think that it was enough material to fill four hours of time, but THE DEFIANT ONES was an excellent look into a major chapter in modern music. There were also several times where the Allen Hughes directed film embraced the darker and less positive elements of everyone's lives, including Dr. Dre's physical abuse of a woman during his early days of success. The documentary also featured several behind the scenes moments from the production of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, the highly successful and critically acclaimed biopic about the same subject. It is such a shame that F. Gary Gray's movie didn't remotely come close to telling the real story it claimed to be.

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the same glossy studio story that Hollywood loves to tell. From RAY to WALK THE LINE, recent movie biopics about musicians have all followed the same notes: musicians band together, musicians face strife, musicians face death or illness, musicians perservere. That is about it. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is so generic that is actually diminishes the legacy of N.W.A. and their importance to the genesis of rap music. Even if you aren't a fan of the genre, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON plays like an attempt to show you what makes the music style so revolutionary. The problem is that such a tale deserves an equally revolutionary film which this is not. Running at just about two and a half hours, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON manages to feel to short and overlong at the same time. The issue originates with two key items: a bad script and a bad director.

The UnPopular Opinion, Straight Outta Compton, Rap, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Paul Giamatti, F. Gary Gray

Starting with the screenplay, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON lacks the feel of a writer who has any true association with the hip-hop community. Scripters Jonathan Herman (GHOST IN THE SHELL) and Andrea Berloff (BLOOD FATHER, SLEEPLESS) had the unenviable task of condensing two decades of drama into two and a half hours. With all of the tragedy and controversy that surrounded N.W.A., it is somewhat disappointing that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON spends so much time on the break-up of the band rather than on their formation. In fact, the movie ends and cobbles together the later success of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre into a montage that plays over the credits. Biopics obviously cannot include everything, but the streamlined narrative and focus on the major events that were widely publicized in the media during the 1990s makes STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON feel more like a dramatization of events rather than a fully realized narrative film about these characters. There is virtually no narrative insight into the band members that could not have been gleaned from an issue of Rolling Stone or The Source magazine published in the last two decades.

The other major problem is F. Gary Gray. When Gray was announced as the director of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, any and all of my expectations flew out the window. Gray has turned in competent films like THE NEGOTIATOR and A MAN APART as well as my personal favorite FRIDAY. Gray also has a long history of directing rap videos for Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and many others, but his skill with short form direction is sorely lacking in long form movie making. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the very definition of by the numbers filmmaking. For a group as renowned for being unique and original as N.W.A. was, this film has none of that flair or rhythym. Through the entire movie, I continually expected something to happen on screen that would have lit a fire under the story, but instead the movie just plods along from plot point to plot point. Gray made the same fatal mistakes with this year's THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS which bore none of the visual energy of prior movies in the franchise.

The first act of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is incredibly engrossing. The formation of the band bears the hallmarks of a gritter and darker movie that this story deserved to be. But, as soon as the band signs their record contract and Paul Giamatti enters the tale, the movie falls apart. In THE DEFIANT ONES, it becomes very apparent that the members of N.W.A. were all playing up their gangster image as a means to sell records and gain fame. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON portrays the crew as a band of thugs barely better than caricatures of themselves. For a movie that had the direct feedback of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, this movie certainly feels like it was catering to their egos rather than painting a legitimate portrait of their rise.

Now, I will address the elephant in the room: I am a white man criticizing what many would consider a Black movie. I do not see films as being for one race or another, but the dedicated fans of N.W.A. and their music are too close to the subject matter to view it objectively. Had this movie been about a fictional rap group, I am confident audiences would have left the theater wondering why they wasted their money on such a generic movie. I loved all of the casting decisions here, especially O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins who both show that they will have long careers in Hollywood, but there is only so much actors can do when the structure of the movie itself is just too weak.

The UnPopular Opinion, Straight Outta Compton, Rap, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Paul Giamatti, F. Gary Gray

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON could have been a revolutionairy movie. N.W.A. is such an instantly recognizable name in the annals of music history that they easily could have torn apart the behind the scenes rise of the band. It is too bad that the filmmakers decided to focus on the collapse and reunion of the group instead of the much more entertaining and dramatic beginnings of their group. I am thankful that HBO created THE DEFIANT ONES as it is the movie that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON should have been. Since that documentary also had the direct involvement of Dr. Dre and the other band members, it also feels a little skewed in their favor, but Allen Hughes didn't pull as many punches as F. Gary Gray. Come to think of it, if Allen Hughes had directed STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, this column would never have needed to have been written.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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