To director F. Gary Gray’s (The Italian Job) credit, this biopic is a fairly unflinching look at the phenomena, genesis, and implosion that was NWA. Pretty much no one comes out of this film without some scars and blemishes, allowing it to feel honest, even where it may have diverged from or otherwise glossed over aspects of the truth.
The film itself, however, is a little less than cohesive. The tale is told through Easy-E’s journey; at least, that is how the final cut framed it all. While biopics tend to be better with a clear focus, this is an instance where pure omniscience may have worked better. While we begin with E’s moment of clarity that got the ball rolling, the movie then goes on to follow many paths and people, by necessity. It is a fascinating, frustrating, and fabulous story that will serve as an historical marker going forward. But as the threads are pulled back together towards the end, the story becomes less focused and interesting as a movie… and the final moment requires a bit of knowledge to really pay off.
The cast, as a whole, is very good and, in many cases, they are incredible doubles for the subjects in question. Even if you don’t know them by sight, the closing credits news clips will make that clear. But no one individual stands out other than Paul Giamatti (San Andreas), and that is partially just due to his skin. Otherwise, it is an ensemble piece of relatively equally contributing actors in the main roles.
Given the state of racial politics in the country, this story is a great reminder of what has and hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. In fact, Rodney King becomes a pivotal moment for the band. This isn’t what I would call an entertaining film, but it is good, if not great. And, of course, it is full of the music it revolves around. Whether you knew NWA or not, there is enough story and context to make it an intriguing, if imperfect, movie.