Apparently, Straight Outta Compton has made more money in its opening weekend than Selma did during its entire run. This may be disquieting news but it's easy to see why. Director F. Gary Gray pulls no punches with this boys from the 'hood made good story about NWA's incredible rise to prominence. The five rappers from south Los Angeles' notorious Compton - Dr Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella - came together to change the face of hip hop and put the West Coast music scene on the global map.
If you come to this story cold, having only bought a pair of Dr Dre's beat headphones, you'd be forgiven for thinking the group's rise to fame and incredible riches was pretty much a walk in the park - with only the occasional spot of interference from Los Angeles' finest. We see little of the work and the creative process that went into producing their distinctive and groundbreaking music. Nor is there any real acknowledgement of their influences; there is one scene at the beginning of the film where we see Dre lost to time, listening to Roy Ayers seminal album, Everybody Loves The Sunshine. But that's pretty much the only reference to the musical history these rappers were steeped in.
It's a familiar rags-to-riches story and Straight Outta Compton ticks all the boxes with a script that is merely serviceable. Thus at the beginning of the film, we get the boys' daily strife - Eazy E standing up to a drug dealer, Ice Cube being bussed to a white school - and the bus being hijacked by gangbangers, Dre being kicked out of the family home for not getting a "proper" job - and always the constant threat of police harassment. It's just another day in the 'hood, y'all. Thankfully, the film is well cast across the board with a very charismatic Corey Hawkins as the young Dr Dre, and Paul Giamatti as the group's manager Jerry Heller.
After the rappers cut a smash record, they attract the attention of Heller who takes them from the streets of Compton into the homes of white Americans. And that's where the trouble really starts. NWA famously incurred the wrath of the FBI for their record F**k Tha Police - but as Eazy E knew only too well, there is no such thing as bad publicity and the FBI's threat only served to boost their audience to phenomenal effect. At their peak, NWA sold more than five million records, more than any other hip hop artist at the time. Now, of course, Dr Dre is almost a billiionaire, thanks to his rule-breaking deal with Apple.
We have had jukebox musicals and this is something of a jukebox film (Simon Cowell, please take note). Dr Dre has an uncanny ability of spotting raw talent, nurturing the careers of Snoop Doggy Dog, Tupac and Eminem. And when we hear their music, this is when the film comes into its own.
There is surely another, better movie to be made about this period but Straight Outta Compton is worth seeing for the trip down memory lane alone. You will leave the theatre and walk straight into a record store. If you can find one, that is.