The first half of this biopic whizzes by, introducing the three main characters (NWA founders Easy E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre) as young pop visionaries who see the future and impact of gangsta’ rap. They rise against the backdrop of racially-charged LA, and director F. Gary Gray gives each their own space and voice. We invest in them individually and collectively, while rooting for their success as they navigate fame, the music industry, the violence of their environment and financial and professional jealousies. Gray also skillfully juxtaposes the raw anger of their music with the brutality of Compton. It’s good, involving fun. The second half, however, is slower, and the path is well-worn. Excess takes its toll, “the man” (i.e., manager Jerry Heller, the record company, cops and the government) does what he does, and it sure gets lonely at the top.
Overall, this is an entertaining and competent if overlong film. It’s also filled with factual inaccuracies, to be expected when rich men collaborate on the telling of their own rise (and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are mega-rich). A few, however, are problematic. Gray obviously wants to set a time of rampant police brutality and oppression, so he has Dre arrested for simply talking back to a thuggish Compton cop. All well and good, except Dre was actually arrested for . . . unpaid parking tickets! Ha ha ha. Not very gangsta’.
Similarly, there is a scene where the Detroit police, led by a Bull Connoresque whitey and his phalanx of all-white cops, chase NWA off the stage and beat them viciously, throwing them one by one into a van for processing, for playing “Fuck the Police.” In fact, while NWA was arrested in Detroit, it wasn’t at the venue, nor were they beaten. Instead, later that evening, they were safely ensconced in their hotel when they went to the lobby to meet some girls. There the cops took them in with little fanfare, and no body blows.
Oh well. They still had attitude.