Arts

The rags to riches tale of California rap group NWA

Straight Outta Compton is a rags to musical riches tale with a difference, entertainingly charting the 80s heyday of NWA - featuring rappers Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E – even if it doesn't tell the whole story…

"The faint whiff of nepotism is overpowered by heady fumes of whitewash from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff's script." Picture by Jaimie Trueblood, PA Photo, Universal

WHENEVER Hollywood immortalises pages from history at 24 frames per second, it's wise to treat each lustrous dramatisation with a pinch of salt.

Rigorous factual accuracy is often sacrificed at the altar of artistic licence. In the case of F. Gary Gray's engrossing film, you will need to grab bulging fistfuls of sodium chloride.

Not only are two of the key protagonists of this rags to musical riches biopic listed as executive producers, one of the men - rapper turned actor Ice Cube - is portrayed on screen by his own son.

The faint whiff of nepotism is overpowered by heady fumes of whitewash from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff's script, which neglects to address accusations of misogyny and homophobia levelled at California hip hop collective NWA.

Regardless of the rosy tint to director Gray's lens, Straight Outta Compton is a fascinating portrait of youthful exuberance, raw ambition and racial divide that rubs some of that salt into the deep wounds inflicted since the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The film opens in 1986 with pals Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) searching for an outlet for their creativity.

Tensions are high between police and black youths - random stop and searches are an unwelcome part of neighbourhood life.

"I'm the only gangster round here," snarls one officer. With gentle persuasion from his buddies, Eazy-E sets up the label Ruthless Records and the group's first release Boyz-n-the-Hood piques the interest of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). He sweet talks Eazy-E into becoming the band's manager.

"What does NWA. stand for? No Whites Allowed?" asks Jerry naively.

An electrifying live performance leads to a deal with Priority Records founded by Bryan Turner (Tate Ellington).

Ice Cube grows increasingly concerned about Easy-E's close working relationship with Heller and the absence of contracts for the rest of the group. He eventually leaves and goes solo, sparking a bitter war of rhymes between the former band mates.

Ice Cube aligns himself with Suge Knight (R Marcus Taylor) and together they establish Death Row Records.

Meanwhile, Dr Dre also turns his back on Easy-E and NWA and channels his energy into working as a producer for acts including Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose).

Straight Outta Compton might run to a holler short of two-and-a-half hours but Gray's film has sufficient swagger to hold our attention.

Hawkins, Mitchell and Jackson Jr deliver accomplished performances as the sometimes deluded pioneers of a hip hop revolution.

Musical performances pulse with energy including a stand-off with police at a concert that culminates in a riot.

This might not be the whole uncomfortable truth, but what we are allowed to see hits the right notes.

 

:: Straight Outta Compton (15, 147 mins)

Drama. O'Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr, Paul Giamatti, R Marcus Taylor, Keith Stanfield, Marcc Rose, Corey Reynolds, Tate Ellington. Director: F. Gary Gray.

RATING: three stars

Arts

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