The story of controversial rap group NWA – that famously brought Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright into the spotlight – provides a compelling musical bio-drama that has taken the States by storm.
Whether this film, with its very American West Coast roots, fares as well internationally remains to be seen, but despite one or two minor missteps, this hits far more than it misses – as it chronicles the controversial rise of the five-piece who revolutionised hip-hop in the late eighties with iconic hits like F*** Tha Police.
Compton’s helmer F Gary Gray – who directed producer Cube (who co-produces with Dre) in hit 1995 comedy Friday – does an extremely competent job of piecing together material that could have easily gone on for 3-4 hours into under two and a half, even though it does suffer from some choppy editing and historical gaps due to these constraints.
The movie is generally based on the three major aforementioned members, rapper/writer Cube (played by his son O’Shea Jackson Jr, who looks uncannily like him), producer Dre (Corey Hawkins) and ‘shady’ entrepreneur Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) – along with the lesser-known two members MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) – and the highs and lows that come with a meteoric rise to fame.
Several main plot lines covered include Jerry Heller’s (Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti) management of NWA and close relationship with Eazy-E (who put the cash in to get the ensemble up and running), Ice Cube’s acrimonious split from the group due to financial irregularities, Dr Dre’s later collaborations with famous producer Suge Knight (R Marcos Taylor), and E’s battle with AIDS during the film’s close.
In between the group’s influence at concerts, and even the LA riots, due to their controversial lyrics are also portrayed – along with cameos from other West Coast stars such as The DOC, Warren G, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. There’s already even talk of a sequel covering these stars that appeared on the back of NWA’s rise to prominence.
It might be a bit disjointed at times, breezes over the group’s contentious treatment of women – and seems to paint Cube and Dre as the ‘good guys’ maybe more than it should – but there’s no doubting there’s a genuinely powerful story here that works far better as a movie than say, 2009’s Notorious.
And for that overriding quality – combined with some noteworthy performances from the exciting young cast – you should go straight to the cinema to check it out.
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Gavin Miller[youtube id=”l5r5cZk0EfY” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Cast: O’shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr, R Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr, Carra Patterson, Elena Goode & Keith Stanfield
Running Time: 2 Hrs 27 Mins
Director: F Gary Gray