FILM OF THE WEEK Shooting from the hip hop
Director: F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job)
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, R. Marcos Taylor, Paul Giamatti A gift rapped, and then pulled apart
For a short time, five young men from the badlands of South Central Los Angeles not only held the fate of popular music in their hands. They proceeded to use it as a weapon.
The initial brace of recordings by pioneering hip hop group NWA was the sonic equivalent of live ammunition.
Even now, their landmark 1988 debut album (from which this authorised biopic takes its name) sounds like a direct broadcast from a war zone.
And if you were poor, black and young in urban America at that time, every day was a fight unto itself. (Check the headlines in 2015. Has anything changed?)
No wonder the spectacular ascent to (it must be said, a short-lived) mass popularity by NWA frightened the rich, white and old establishment of the time.
While the group soon fell apart due to the usual creative, financial and personal indulgence issues, the meteoric rise and ferocious rampage of NWA in their prime fully deserves the bigscreen treatment.
Therefore as a movie, Straight Outta Compton wields its maximum impact in a gripping first half, where the group rapidly get their abrasive act together, then rush headlong at an unsuspecting world.
The core of the original NWA line-up is quite rightly the principal focus here.
There is Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), slightly older and (street) wiser than the others. It is the proceeds from his halcyon days as a drug dealer in their neighbourhood that gets the group into a studio in the first place.
As for Ice Cube (played here by his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), spawning lyrics that provoked both moral outrage and deep thought were his strong suit.
Cube’s charge that US law enforcement officers wielded “the authority to kill a minority” (on NWA’s most notorious and important track F--- tha Police) stands as one of the most inflammatory lines ever recorded to tape.
Also looming large is Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), a self-schooled genius with a turntable and recording deck whose soundscapes revolutionised contemporary music for better and for worse.
By the time Straight Outta Compton reaches the point where NWA must inevitably self destruct, there is still over an hour of running time left to go in what becomes an epic, slogging saga. Not even the introduction of the still-fearsome standover impresario Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) as a latebreaking villain can turn the movie around.
However, few will take Straight Outta Compton to task for tapering off quite a memorable peak achieved well before the closing credits.