Film Review: Straight Outta Compton

I truly believe that if you want to talk to people about peer pressure don’t use smoking, use music. Nicotine has nothing on the playground pressures of rap, rock and dance music. When I was growing up if you couldn’t rap The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, play Smells Like Teen Spirit on a Fender guitar or at least own You’ve Come A Long Way Baby you weren’t cool and that’s before you’ve even started to chose a side in the great fight that was Oasis versus Blur.

I’m not really a fan of rap music, it’s one of those genres – like jazz and blues – that I enjoy snippets, fair weather tracks here and there. I can’t listen to the whole of an Eminem album from start to finish and I don’t own anything by Tupac Shakur but from time to time it has its place in my life and when push comes to shove I know enough of the “hits” to get by. My knowledge comes in Cliff Note form as it were.

Ice Cube, Dr Dre & Easy-E - N.W.A

What I’m trying to say is that for a biopic focused on the main players in N.W.A, I’m not the target audience, in fact while I know the iconic tracks, hand on heart I couldn’t have named the members or have any idea of really how the story went – even though it defines a genre and a generation – until I saw the trailer, but the trailer was enough, it grabbed me. The iconic music, not loved but well known, drawing me in and allied to a story portrayed as gritty and interesting enough to make me want to visit Compton.

Sadly though, as so often the trailer lies. Straight Outta Compton is confused, elongated and ultimately dull and not the interesting and impressive story I expected. The problem is simple, there is just too much going on. It’s trying to tell every angle and cover ever base, ultimately, forgetting to make any point at all.

The story is essentially the mental power struggle between the people involved, how they all wanted different things and have different priorities and therefore, the destructive force this created. And that’s exactly how the story feels. Like too many people have written too many individual parts and then twisted them together in an attempt to make a comprehensible timeline, but they’ve failed miserably. I just sat there as the story switched tone back and forth, over and over destroying all chance of depth or explanation. Never spending long enough on any one thing, or any one character, to really let you in to really give you a story that answered the questions it presents.

Ice Cube, Dr Dre & Easy-E - Straight Outta Compton

Even worse though is the fact that I don’t think it knows what type of film it wants to be. It’s not a character story as such because it never spends long enough looking into their eyes to let you get a handle on them. I still don’t think I know Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E or any of the countless others who surround them and I certainly don’t feel like I understand what makes them tick. Throughout the film they are just 2-dimensional “people”, constantly cold and never capable of conveying emotion or drawing empathy. Yet it’s not a time line of the “band” as it were either because too often it would isolate the individual elements, forgetting the greater whole. And it’s definitely not about the music because while the hits are there, they are sporadic and passing. To put it into a musical metaphor, the characters are the verses, the songs are the bridge and nobody bothered to write the chorus to tie it all together.

It’s also very long and monotonously slow. Even worse though is that it’s very much a film to two-thirds. The first 60% feels like one film, not very interesting and not enough depth to keep my attention as it meandered from point to unconnected point before it actually starts to naturally wind down. I truly felt like the movie was coming to a unsatisfying but acceptable end. Wrap. Cut. Everybody go home. But then it carried on and a glance at my watch made me realise that there was still 30% – or a sizeable amount of time – left to go. It’s really did feel like arranging the taxi for Midnight and then wanting to leave by 10. Forcing you to stay when really, you feel you should have left.

That is, however, being a little harsh because I actually found the final third of the film much better than the first two. I think that’s because it actually tried to stick to one idea. It dropped the interweaving of the music, band and multiple characters and essentially focused purely on the world that evolved around Andre Young aka Dr. Dre. It still failed to really provide any depth, but this narrowing of the field of view meant the film meant it finally felt like it had a greater purpose and a more coherent story.

Misogyny - Straight Outta Compton

A lot has been made of the racism and misogyny in the film. Both of which are true but actually affect the film in totally different ways. The racism is there but it’s used in context, so while difficult and socially unacceptable, it is palatable because it’s simply portraying what actually happened and how attitudes were at the time. The misogyny on the other hand lacks the context and so, comes across as cheap and nasty and unnecessary. It made even worse by the fact that the few female characters who are given any real lines in the film actually feel likeable but too often, women in Straight Outta Compton are purely there to parade around with nothing on. It got boring fast and actually, when occurring is so saturating and out of place narratively that it left me withdrawing from the scenes even more.

I don’t exactly know why, like I said, I’m not really a fan of rap music, but I was looking forward to Straight Outta Compton; but as a movie it’s missed the mark so badly that I’m actually tinged with sadness. Especially because you can see that the pieces are potentially there in the story to make real commentaries and provide real depth into a tale that revolutionised more than just the lives of those involves but actually challenged racial stereotyping, freedom of speech and music as a whole. It’s just such a shame that too many people, wanted too much to say, at the same time. Because if they’d taken a step back they’d have realised that, ultimately, Straight Outta Compton is bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

4 out of 10 stars (4 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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