Saturday, September 5, 2015

Straight Outta Compton ★★★

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    As a film critic, it is rarely my responsibility to comment on contemporary social issues or political happenings, unless, of course, the picture in question touches on such matters and warrants such discussions. (My primary job is to, in the words of The New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, file a sensory report, which can subsequently be used by you, the reader, in an effort to make an educated decision as to whether or not you should spend your hard earned cash on a particular experience.) "Straight Outta Compton," a film that chronicles the rise of the 1980's rap group aptly named N.W.A., is a picture that justifies some sort of response to the social complications in which it ultimately expresses. For, when brought into today's context, it becomes a pure depiction of a major social issue in this country; that being, a portrayal of police brutality, racial profiling and injustice.

    In fact, director F. Gary Gray ("Friday," "The Negotiator," and "The Italian Job") blatantly utilizes novelty effects to remind us all of the injustice suffered by Rodney King. (The original video associated with the beating and clips of the trial and verdict are littered throughout.) Yet, there is another issue here if one is to delve deep into the realm of social failings. Many could comment on the fact that the majority of material produced by N.W.A. does nothing more than glorify and glamorize what has been designated as a "gangster" lifestyle. (Naturally, this group birthed the genre of "gangster rap" with their emphasis on violence, unruly behavior, and substance abuse.) After all, it is a precarious way of living and not very beneficial to society.

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  However, "Straight Outta Compton" seems to anticipate this potential analysis and answers to it in the most sophisticated fashion: "Art is the reflection of reality" is a line spoken by O'Shea Jackson Jr., the son of the group's most talented and vigorous member (Ice Cube) and the actual conveyance for the man himself in this instance, that not only answers this likely criticism, but it sheds light on just how crafty this picture can be, even if its subject matter is a tad over-the-top for my liking; it is only one of several moments where the film transcends the structure of its dialogue to comment on the grand scheme of things. As far as my convictions on the topic are concerned, I believe social injustices, however nefarious, should be fought politically and passively, and the N.W.A. certainly changed the music industry for the better in terms of their approach and execution of freedom of speech--a constitutional right that deserves to be protected as long as this country remains operational.

    Nevertheless, what the film does best here is capture the upstart of this faction, and the previously mentioned culture, while never taking itself too seriously. Many of the dramatized, re-created events begin to come off as forced and somewhat strained, yet lines of dialogue that allude to the cinematic atmosphere of the circumstance, and the feeling of a glaring reproduction, bring the picture back into coherence. (For example, there is a moment in which Ice Cube, while having a sit-down with controversial manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), describes the setting as "Godfather" like, which undoubtedly lightens the mood and makes things more conducive for the aim at hand.) It is only during the second half of the film, when director Gray seems to be more focused on the major events of the rap industry than the actual relationships of the group, where things become a bit unraveled. (Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and volatile Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight all make an appearance in what becomes a mesmerizing depiction of events for anyone interested heavily in the genre.)

    "Straight Outta Compton" is far more entertaining and engaging than Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys," (the first film in a long time to place me in a state of complete boredom) and it is hardly as profound or heartfelt as last year's "Get on Up." I'm sure that any fan of the group would enjoy this picture slightly more than I, but that is beside the point. I feel that the main problem with these types of films that attempt to re-create certain events is simply just that: it re-creates and dramatizes, which can be quite problematic at times. The complication is that these specific events and moments were surely more exciting and momentous when they actually took place, and to view them now in this fashion just seems out of touch and in some measure downright bland. As one can discern, however, "Straight Outta Compton" does well to detract from such constraints more often than not.

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