Straight Outta Compton is a well-made if unchallenging biopic about the pioneering hip-hop group N.W.A and its founding fathers, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Ice Cube (played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Coproduced by Dre, Cube, and Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, the movie excels in capturing the detail and electrifying tone of its era at the expense of plot nuance. The shifting managerial allegiances that dominate the second half of the film are written in rock-film cliché, and it drags somewhat into a tiresome slow jam of contract disputes and ego wars.
But this isn’t really a movie that aims to shed new light on its characters or the Hollywood retelling in which they find themselves. Instead, it’s a celebration of figures that have risen to mythic status in the decades since, and a reminder why they rose in the first place. They were perhaps some of the boldest and most fearless recording artists of all time, and the film’s re-enactments of their performances are more thrilling than many a summer action explosion scene.
The acting is the real highlight here: Jackson Jr. is so good at playing his father that you think at points they may be the same person. From recapturing his recording-room bravado to wearing the dourly look of a wronged man, he gives a moving and powerful performance.
Straight Outta Compton also succeeds in framing N.W.A as genius both within and beyond their context time. They were prophets and visionaries, among the first to speak out against the now much more widely acknowledged culture of police brutality against African Americans and black culture. In their time, they were hated for it by many but did not back down.
Their aftermath as lovable movie stars and billionaire music moguls is tucked away in a credits highlights reel, and it is funny how rebels come to soften over the years or in some ways join the cause they fought. This flick feels soft and tame in its ways, too, but it’s still a great watch. It reminds us of their fiercest days, and why their legacy remains so vital — the endurance of their great music, their undefeatable willingness to be uncompromising, and their poetic call for justice.