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Straight Outta Compton reviews: What are the critics saying?

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Jaimie Trueblood

N.W.A. quickly made a name for themselves with their first album, Straight Outta Compton. While it has ultimately been heralded one of the most significant hip-hop albums of all time, it was met with both praise and controversy, and the group’s success was hardly an easy road. 

F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton tells the story of N.W.A.’s rise and fall, the triumphs and struggles of the group over the years. It does so by tracing the lives of N.W.A.’s members—Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince —as well as those who helped them along the way and competing acts that all played into N.W.A’s growth, its disbanding in 1991, and the legacy that followed.

So does the look at West Coast hip-hop’s most significant outfits buckle under the weight of its scope or does it flow through the years of history with ease? EW’s Chris Nashawaty suggests both in his B+ review. He called Compton “the kind of movie that can sweep you up in its thrall one moment and then leave you scratching your head the next. It’s hugely entertaining and occasionally maddening.”

Check out more from Nashawaty’s review, and other critics’ thoughts on the film from around the country, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“Gray does his best to keep the momentum going while jumping back and forth between storylines, but with so much ground to cover, he lets certain threads slip from his grasp. At one point, Dre leads the police on a high-speed car chase, gets arrested, and it’s never mentioned again. It’s a tribute to how compelling N.W.A’s story is that you almost don’t care about narrative lapses like that.”

Scott Foundas (Variety)

“Gray plunges us into that pressure-cooker atmosphere repeatedly, including one scene — depicted here as the inspiration for “F–k tha Police” — that can’t help but send a chill through the theater in light of the recent events in Ferguson and other black communities: While taking a break from the “Compton” recording sessions, the rappers are descended on by a swarm of Torrance cops who humiliatingly shake them down while disparaging the very existence of hip-hop.”

Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle)

“This movie’s Suge Knight is a little small, Eazy-E is too tall and Snoop Dogg is about half a foot too short. But the cast of mostly unknown actors blend into the history of their roles, to the point where it’s a distraction every time Heller comes on the screen. (“What’s Paul Giamatti in a white wig doing in these home movies from N.W.A.?”) Jackson is a standout as his father, Ice Cube, down to every head-cocked glare and lip quiver. Please, Hollywood, don’t ever remake Boyz n the Hood. But if you absolutely have to, do it right now, and use this guy.”

Ann Hornaday (The Washington Post)

“But Compton deserves a much wider reach than the group’s hard-core fans. Thanks to eerily on-point timing and adroit direction from F. Gary Gray, this classic star-is-born story manages to transcend its own tight focus. Even viewers who think N.W.A. is an airline will probably be electrified by a story that, while succumbing to its share of hagiography, still puts its subjects in context as avatars, not just of their time and place but of our own.”

Drew McWeeny (HitFix)

Straight Outta Compton may not fully shake off many of the restrictions of the biopic form, but if anyone deserves to have some mythmaking done for them, it’s N.W.A. And if ever there’s been a time to raise some hands in the air, middle finger up, and give a rousing call-and-response to ‘F— tha Police,’ it feels like it’s right now. Both of its time and of the moment, Straight Outta Compton is potent and largely successful, and makes a hell of a case for why this was a story worth telling.”

Jordan Hoffman (The Guardian)

“As a narrative, the back half of this movie is completely off the rails, but fans of the music will probably be more engaged. There are appearances of other stars that do little more than give the audience a chance to say ‘Hey, that’s Tupac!’ and ‘Hey that’s Snoop!’ Those who don’t bring outside knowledge to the film will find themselves clueless at a rousing final speech, in which the eventual name of Dr Dre’s record label is invoked. Worse, though, is how it loses all its edge to become hagiography for these men.”

Amy Nicholson (The Village Voice)

“In a 150-minute film, that’s a lot of paperwork. It’s clear what producers Cube and Dre are most interested in: the money. Story is secondary, especially when the facts are embarrassing.Straight Outta Compton deletes what could have been its best scenes — say, how Knight dangled Vanilla Ice over a balcony so he and Dre could fund Death Row Records with the profits from ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ the antithesis of gangsta rap.”

John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter)

“While the movie makes sense of the passions behind that song, it isn’t at all concerned with those who claimed the group’s other tracks glorified crime. And it cares even less about complaints concerning misogyny in their lyrics: Women are nonentities in this film, the spoils of commercial success. Only after a couple rise to the rank of girlfriend or wife do they even get to speak, with two or three lines of dialogue suggesting they may be sentient creatures.”

Odie Henderson (RogerEbert.com)

While there are a few minor missteps (we could do without some of the rather suspect scenes of groupie gratification, for example) overall this is a masterful piece of work. It’s funny, angry, sad and inspirational. I admired its willingness to be as unrelenting as N.W.A.’s album, and I had a great time mouthing the words to every song on the soundtrack.”

Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)

“But Hollywooding a true story can mean many different things. Straight Outta Compton at its best evokes the heady atmosphere of Crenshaw Boulevard and what the group’s success meant to Compton, and vice versa. When the songs themselves take center stage the movie works. What remains in the wings constitutes another, fuller story.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 71

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Rated: R

Length: 147 minutes

Starring: O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchel, Paul Giamatti

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Distributor: Universal Pictures

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