Last weekend being a bank holiday weekend, had me out enjoying life with a couple of mates before a week of night shifts hence my silence of late. Instead of running down our trail of destruction, pillage and debauchery like I usually would, this time I’ll be reviewing two of the pastimes of the weekend that polarised my opinions.
The first was watching Straight Outta Compton, I had high hopes for this biopic of ‘the world’s most dangerous group’ which were sadly dashed fairly early on. For those not familiar with N.W.A., they were an immensely talented group around from 86-91 who revolutionised Hip-Hop with visceral social commentary as well as some interesting moral values, or lack there of. Their notoriety stemming from their standing up to an institutionally racist police force and giving a platform to how life was on their streets of Compton.
The film’s running time is two and a half hours so I accept things have to move quickly but the Genesis of the band and the subsequent successes and seemingly meteoric rise to fame felt like they were achieved with no real struggles or setbacks apart from the odd run in with the police, which felt pretty unrealistic. With such a speedy introduction the protagonist’s histories weren’t given much of a look in and there was little sense of fleshing out as a result.
The gigs are wonderful though, there is a feeling of the energy which their stage presence undoubtedly generated coupled with the obvious talent and ability they had. This coming out of adversity and driving anger, telling it how it is in a raw way is very well done and having listened to the albums for a number of years, there are some mighty catchy tracks from these lyrical poets.
It was a waiting game for it all to go wrong but that just wasn’t balanced with much in the way of underlying tension, the greed and creative differences just sort of pop up in sequence as it were, rather than being in the background brooding and slow burning before the inevitable clashes. The main problem of the film for me though is how awkward it feels in certain parts, where instead of using subtlety chooses to stick a massive great signpost into a foundation of clunky dialogue because as an audience we are obviously too unintelligent to understand the nuances what it happening.
Since watching The Wire (of which a review will becoming soon(ish)) scenes of the nature with police interacting with people in areas known for drugs and gangs need to be utterly realistic for me to invest in them and these were sadly not that. There was little impact for me because I have been spoilt with high calibre writing and acting, which is not to say the actors don’t do well, although the police were just far to one-dimensional to warrant comment. There was a mention of Rodney King and the subsequent riots but these weren’t built upon in the film as themes but more of just as something going on at the time which would have been great opportunity for some sneaky up to date social commentary but was sadly missed.
It wasn’t a bad movie by any stretch, I enjoyed it whilst it was on but on further scrutiny it didn’t have as much to it as documentary would have. A simple one sentence voice over could achieve so much more in a shorter time and would still have been lucid on the main points with context whilst being objective to all players involved. In fact the documentary N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group is much better and is on YouTube if you have a spare hour.
The timing of the film is interesting with all the well documented race troubles involving the police and the black community over in America, shows that despite the impact of the band at the time, the nervousness of the authorities and the embracing of the general public, nothing seems to have changed, which perhaps says something for our society.
Now don’t get me wrong, it would be stupid of me to single out anybody specifically because it is a problem that needs to be tackled by all. For all the good N.W.A. did bringing the injustices people suffer to a wider base, they also glamorised drugs and the gangster life which is part of the problem but then so is the lack of education on all sides and the need to target the most in need in society and help them after, all you are only as strong as your weakest link.
Soapbox now firmly stepped off, so to sum up, it’s not the masterpiece some people are claiming but is a decent watch if you don’t expect too much from it, it could have been shorn of the exposition scenes and perhaps paced better but after all that, the group remain a seminal and fascinating act that changed the music scene with a history worth discovering however you choose to do so.
Whilst making a cuppa, it occurred to me that the people against the message N.W.A. were trying to get across, was misunderstood by people who would have been highly educated, politicians, religious figures etc. These people reacted negatively to the music but clearly didn’t understand the situation that pushed the group to present themselves like they did with what I can only describe as street eloquence. I suppose the term highly educated really is subjective and it pays to understand somebody or something before making a judgement.
Unsurprisingly this film has swearing, some drugs and a bit of screen time with women as sexual objects.