(out of 5)
Thoroughly engrossing biography of the formation of N.W.A., the group that put rap music on the cultural map and paved the way for much of what is popular in music today. A group of friends from Compton, Los Angeles endure the poverty, violence and police brutality that is their everyday reality, turning it into poetic lyrics that they perform for audiences at night. Their shows are meant to be entertainment for their neighbourhood, but when promoter Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) catches wind of the energy and talent on display, not to mention the effect they have on their audience, he shops them around to record companies and, before long, they are an international phenomenon. The music sells and the message, bringing to light the injustices that face black citizens in the United States without softening the delivery, gets these guys in as much trouble with authority as they had when they were kids walking their neighbourhood streets. Lyrics to songs like “Fuck Tha Police” are not likely to make the boys in blue happy to work security at their huge concerts, while the national reaction to the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police officers galvanizes the performers to make their message clearer. What inevitably happens, and what this film’s spry and intelligent screenplay shows so well, is that splintering occurs among the group that sees individual goals being set against one another and threatening both personal and professional relationships. Ice Cube, who serves as one of the producers and is portrayed here very effectively by his son O’Shea Jackson Jr., doesn’t trust shady Heller, which leads to his going his own way and leaving their manager in a lockdown relationship with the group’s charismatic leader Eazy E (Jason Mitchell). The story continues through ups and downs before the great tragedy of the conclusion, leaving us with a whole host of reminders of what this era in music led to in the years since. It’s more than possible that there’s a lot of mythologizing going on in the portrayal of this rags-to-riches bunch, as no musical biography has ever done without that, but there’s also no denying the rich charisma of the personalities involved and the wonderful cast playing them, nor can any fault be found with F. Gary Gray’s energetic direction.
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Music by Joseph Trapanese
Production Design by Shane Valentino
Costume Design by Kelli Jones
Academy Awards: 2015