…speak a little truth and people lose their minds…
So let’s talk about hip hop for a moment.. If you are into it, or not into it; there is one thing that is almost for certain. You’ve heard of NWA. Infamously famous, this group of young kids from Compton California almost literally beat the odds and made their dreams come true in a scene that didn’t like music about the truth of street life. Producers wanted the next LL Cool J, Run DMC and Kool Mo Dee. None of them wanted to hear about the streets. Nobody wanted to hear about police brutality or the gangster lifestyle.
They wanted the next “Tricky” but that isn’t what a young and actually hungry Dr Dre wanted at all.. He wanted people to hear the truth. Once he finally met the right people and producers who believed in him… Well, the rest as they say… is history.
Director F. Gary Grey ( Friday, The Italian Job ) brings us straight into Compton right from the beginning of what seems to be his best work yet. Following a young Easy E, Dr Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren. Never has a new film been so relevant about the issues facing young inner city poverty stricken youth and their run ins with the police. They could almost get away with making a cut of this film without any hip hop involved and you would think it was a documentary on the modern condition in America.
Right away you can see how well the cast and crew got together making this film because almost immediately you feel like dancing along with them while they are in the studio creating legendary tracks that they had no idea would ever have such a big impact on the world. As someone who has been in the studio with a hip hop group, they nailed the environment PERFECTLY even down to the production gear from the late 80’s. That attention to detail is where F. Gary Grey really won me over with this film. Don’t be surprised if you end up seeing the kid they found to play Easy-E in any upcoming films. He as well as Ice Cubes own son just stole the entire show. It’s SCARY weird how much he looks like his father and just knocks it out of the park as far as playing your own father is concerned.
Speaking of stealing the show, it would be a sin for me not to mention Paul Giamatti’s performance. Not only is he believable and likable, he is the mortar that holds this picture together. He truly cares about these kids and wants to share their talents with the world but in true Scorsese form, the fall from grace hits terminal velocity in nano seconds.
There is a great pacing to this film as well. Nothing really seems to drag at all. From the formation of Ruthless Records, to the introduction of Suge Knight and Death Row records. I’d love to mention some of the great cameo’s that show up in the film but if you are a fan of the history of gangster rap then most likely you’ll already know who will end up showing up if even for a few lines here and there. I was surprised that they completely glossed over the drama involving Dr. Dre beating the shit out of a woman at a club but since it was produced by the surviving members it makes sense. Honestly if it was included in the story it would only drag the pacing along and get in the way of something much more important.. the stardom of a few kids from a small ghetto in South LA.
One of the pivotal moments in the film was the legendary show in Detroit when the police told them they were not allowed to play one of their most well known songs “Fuck Tha Police”.. As an ex stage manager I can say with confidence they got the old school stage setup almost perfect but besides that, when Cube Tells Dre to roll the song and they start playing the song.. Ramen Instant Goosebumps. It was really cool to see that happen since I’ve only read about it in magazines for years.
As I mentioned earlier, for a biopic, the pacing is flawless. Not one single time did I feel like any scene dragged on for too long and for the first time in a while I definitely shed a tear during the Easy-E portion of the film covering his sickness from AIDS. There are also some nice nods to the directors past showing Ice Cube writing the first draft for Friday and how Dre was finally able to break away from Suge and begin Aftermath Records.. and as they say, the rest is history.
Overall F. Gary Grey, Dr Dre and Ice cube deliver a spot on biopic that puts you right into the time period and show how scary the problems of yesterday parallel the problems of today. To those of you who saw the initial red band trailer of this film and couldn’t believe the film itself couldn’t be as good as the trailer… well believe it because this is easily one of the best all around films of this year so far.
Fans of hip hop and non fans will love this picture for it’s attention to character development, drama and the almost picture perfect pacing from start to finish. That is the main goal of film and in this case, it worked. The screening I was at got a standing ovation for a reason. I’m glad young fans of hip hop can see this film and realize that the garbage they listen to today will never touch what these kids did for the industry… all with analog equipment and no fancy effects.This may be a stretch, but I could see this getting an Oscar nomination. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Watch and see for yourself
And as always, thanks for reading.