The year is 1986 and in Compton, Los Angeles, three teenagers are about to make history as rappers NWA. But for now, their day-to-day lives are far from glamorous as Eric Wright (Jason Mitchell), nicknamed Easy-E, finds himself in a house where drug deals are made, but he manages to irritate the head of that household and nearly comes to grief before the police arrive with a battering ram and smash their way in: he makes it out through a back window. Andre Young, aka Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) is having trouble at home, more interested in his DJ career than working in an office as his mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) wishes him to, and O'Shea Jackson, Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr) to his friends, sees first hand the effects of the gangster culture in the city as he pens lyrics about it.
And then they combined forces and all lived happily ever after. Well, not quite, as with many a music biopic there were some obstacles to contentment along the way, and not everyone was going to make it to the end, or indeed accurately for once it was released there were a bunch of folks lining up to complain about stuff that was missed out or just plain wrong. This was par for the course in such projects, though for some reason the complaints were paid a lot more attention to by the media than was usually the case, with Dr Dre really put through the wringer for beating up a woman journalist way back when, and when it was revealed that incident had been filmed for the movie but left out, people were not happy.
Mind you, they did reference it in the dialogue, and Dre says he has done things he’s not proud of near the end, and that could be applicable to plenty of those depicted. There was an intriguingly ambiguous tone to much of Straight Outta Compton where director F. Gary Gray would show without comment the characters behaving badly and invite the audience to make up their own minds on how they felt about the group and their entourage and connections. For some reason, when bad behaviour is illustrated in that fashion the naysayers pounce and accuse the film of glamorising it, yet you could not say there were no consequences highlighted, after all one of the group doesn't reach the final credits.
Although there was a strain of entertainment featuring African American culture that leant heavily on emphasising how valid its characters or players were from how far their allegiance to the mean streets of wherever they originated went, meaning the more violence, drugs and sex you had seen or experienced the more genuine you were in your work, Gray tended not to sugarcoat such mindsets and preferred to demonstrate where such attitudes stemmed from rather than take them for granted. Obviously with the real Ice Cube and Dr Dre on board as producers to get this made, it was going to be sympathetic to their point of view, but nevertheless it's not as if it portrayed NWA and the gangsta rap scene as the province of angels, mixing with some very dubious characters, exploiting women (it's not until the final half hour that there’s a really positive female role) and lapsing into antagonism and in-fighting.
And neither were they too cool for school in their bad boy antics, indeed what much of this appeared to be telling you was that if you do find yourself moving in such circles, beware of where your head is at. The lifestyle is seductive, and such was the success of the music and its trappings millions across the world now aspire to it across all classes and communities, but as the fate of Easy-E put across there were always consequences. Even more than that, the film warned you about your savings account, as the overriding message was to get a good lawyer, or team of lawyers, because once you start making profits there will always be someone seeking to help themselves to them, though in this case the manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) disputed his quasi-tragic villain depiction. Actually, more than the social issues, which were not backpedalled as the black citizens butt heads with the cops which make them more authentic in their concerns, that money issue was paramount, which betrayed the presence of artists whose fingers had been burned before, rendering Straight Outta Compton a cautionary tale first, social commentary second, and celebration third.