For sheer nostalgia, some powerful perspective on the world around you and nearly three hours of propulsive storytelling, it's hard to beat the unedited version of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.
I thought I knew a lot of this history, but in the hands of a strong screenplay and the never flagging momentum of F Gary Gray's (The Italian Job, Be Cool) direction, the story constantly surprised me.
This is the story of the 1980's rise of music superstars DR DRE, EAZY-E, ICE CUBE, MC REN and DJ YELLA, who created the urban rap that revolutionized music culture ever since.
Emerging from the toughest streets of Compton, the movie weaves a compelling story of life in the gang infested streets of LA and these five young men's fight to escape through their music.
Forming NWA, they become one of the most controversial bands of all time, causing the music rating labels still on product today and telling the story of police brutality through their inflammatory lyrics and in-your face profanity.
I remember in the early 80's having a very definitive view of NWA based on my perception of them and my world at that time.
To watch the history behind their youth, the unfounded, constant harassment and violence by the LA police (both black & white) and their reaction to it through their music changes my view of NWA. History has a way of doing that.
The guys aren't choirboys. The film doesn't try to paint them into perfect, law abiding citizens. Violence and drug use are rampant.
But rise above they all did.
Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) is the emerging producer of the group and to a certain extent its conscience, always pushing to raise the bar not only in their music, but also in their expectations and the way they present themselves.
Ice Cube, played by his real life son O'Shea Jackson Jr. is the first to leave the group and start a solo career, a move that causes distrust and conflict for years across the band.
Jason Mitchell is excellent as Eazy-E, the originator of the group, whose abandon with sex, drugs and money defines his entire life. Eazy's relationship with their first manager Jerry Heller (the always great Paul Giamatti, terrific here) is the nearly constant backbone of their long careers. Heller stands up against the discrimination against his group members, while trying to control the excess of men suddenly living an incredible lifestyle with more money than they can imagine. If Jerry can't hold his own moral compass to the end, its all the more disappointing to watch his failure.
This is a really well acted film.
Production values and recreations of the eighties and nineties are first rate and really enjoyable. Oh to drive down Sunset Blvd and see Tower Records again.....
Featured nearly constantly throughout are the songs of NWA, the band member's solo efforts and co-productions with other artists.
I had forgotten just how great so much of this music is.
Early in the film, two policemen accost Jerry when he is defending his group, asking him why he is bothering with this music, that it has no value and wont last.
Three decades later, I guess we know how that panned out.
This is a powerful story of young men rising out of their surroundings, believing in themselves and their music.
Their story is loaded with drug use, unending profanity, nudity, sex and one hell of a great soundtrack.
NWA breaks every taboo, as does STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, all the way to an A.