The strength of street knowledge.
I'll preface this review by saying that I sat down to write and told myself I'd be as objective as possible with this piece, but honestly, that's just not going to be possible. I just have too much history with this group and the music, so understand that me gushing about this film is years of fandom and yore.
I got into rap music right as the West Coast rap scene was taking off. My brother actually got me into it, and as much as our mother tried to stop us from listening to it, that proved impossible - see, these were the days when MTV actually played music related stuff (including videos), and when we came home from school, this is what we saw. Two white kids in suburban America, learning about what was happening in Compton from these reality rappers. This was a day before Wikipedia, and they were feeding us what the media wasn't. I still remember my mom making my brother put The Chronic tape back on the shelf after reading the tracklisting. I remember falling asleep to the instrumental side of the single for Gin & Juice every single night until the tape popped. The first rap CD I ever purchased with my own money was Ice Cube's West Side Connection group album. The collective that paved the way for all of that? NWA.
When I heard that they were making an NWA biopic, half of me was giddy, the other half worried. I knew that Dre and Ice Cube were going to be on set as producers, but the cast was largely unknowns and the director was F. Gary Gray. In my opinion, he's only directed one great movie, Ice Cube's Friday. Although a competent director, he normally doesn't pick projects I gravitate to (The Negotiator, Italian Job, Be Cool). I'm sorry I doubted them. The cast here does a phenomenal job (and look the part), especially Corey Hawkins as Dre and Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson playing Ice Cube. I know they're blood, but it felt like I was watching the clock turned back whenever his son was on screen. As for doubting F. Gary Gray, I shouldn't have. Clearly this is a subject he loves, and after seeing the movie, I learned that he directed several music videos for these people back in the 90's. Shame on me. If anyone should have directed this movie, it's F. Gary Gray.
The story, of course, takes us through the rise and split of NWA. It was a story I was very familiar with, but the direction definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. The film starts off with a bang and never really lets up after that. I normally don't like long movies (this one clocks in at 2 1/2 hours long), but this definitely didn't feel like a long movie. I wanted more. I wanted more about the West Coast/East Coast feud. I wanted to see Warren G, Nate Dogg, etc. I wanted more, even at 2 1/2 hours long.
The movie did leave out some important things, some things that I thought could have strengthened the story. As you may have heard in recent news, Dr. Dre's documented abuse of women (specifically Dee Barnes) could have been in there. Dr. Dre's feud on wax with Eazy-E could have been interesting as well, along with expanding Snoops role to show his feud with Tim Dog and BG Knocc Out & Dresta (Eazy's labelmates at the time), but I do understand that last part is forgivable with the runtime the way it is. The directors original cut is rumored to be 3 1/2 hours, so maybe we'll get more on the eventual Blu-Ray disc.