A music biopic telling the story of the formation of influential rap group N.W.A. The film begins in Compton with the character of Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy-E. For non-fans there are helpful introductory texts to tell you who you should be recognizing as they appear on screen. Eazy is involved with low-level drug-dealing and it is a bold opening scene, loaded with tension, as he has guns pointed at him and ends up running from the police. We also meet Andre "Dre" Young, a talented DJ who is earning a pittance working at a local club alongside his friend DJ Yella. Dre has one of the most emotional stories throughout as his wife, daughter, mother and brother, provide a lot of the motivation for his success. Together with O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson, these young men come together to record what they describe as "real life raps", talking about police violence, drug dealing, and their lives in Compton. Eazy-E provides the capital and sets up the label Ruthless Records, under which they release their first record. The group become a huge success very quickly and are approached by Jerry Heller who agrees to manage them. Things soon start to turn sour however as members of the group start to believe they are being cheated out of money by their manager. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre leave to start their own solo careers, either signing with other labels or setting up their own.
The film is long but it does a great job of getting across a lot of information. We see numerous deals being done, most of the interpersonal relationships, and each character is given enough time to develop a personality (although some are just hinted at). The film covers a period from 1986 up to the early nineties and we see their highs and lows, the formation and dissolution of the group, and even at the end something of a reunion as they set aside their differences. F. Gary Gray's direction is solid throughout whether its party scenes or quieter moments. All the performances of the main cast are exceptional and you can feel their anger at the way they are treated. You also get a sense of the violent, hectic lifestyle they were living. There is also a certain amount of social commentary. Later in the film the assault of Rodney King by LAPD officers is repeatedly shown and it gets across to the audience the world that they were growing up in, adding context to their songs. I would definitely recommend this movie as a fun, music biopic, even if you are not a fan of the group. There is a lot of emotion, humour, and complexity in the various rivalries and spats to keep you hooked throughout. If you are a fan then this is a fantastic tribute to this incredibly important group.