IN ONE OF Straight Outta Compton's most powerful shots, two men walk toward a police line. Held between them are a blue and a red bandana, knotted together, signifying unity in the face of a common enemy. It's part of a scene that recreates the chaos of the Rodney King riots, the political event that cuts closest to the heart of what N.W.A. represented, and continues to represent, as the country stumbles along a crooked path of institutionalized oppression. It's depressing how relevant "Fuck tha Police" still is, and that makes Straight Outta Compton more essential viewing than it would be if just for old times' sake.
Produced by surviving members Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr., playing his father), and dedicated in memory of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Compton's at its finest in its first half, as the story of friends who used music to show the world what was happening in their community, with police bureaus across the nation nipping futilely at their heels. When things evolve and focus shifts to the—still undeniably entertaining—feuds among the original members, some of that power is lost in favor of familiar Behind the Music motions. Controversy becomes less social criticism and more personal finance, with former manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) portrayed with more nuance than he might have been. Meanwhile Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor) is, as you probably know, currently facing murder charges after angrily leaving the Compton film set in January.
Though Compton's attention is, over all, rather evenly distributed among N.W.A.'s three most prominent alumni, it ultimately settles on Eazy's arc, more or less wrapping things up after his 1995 death due to AIDS complications. It's a logical stopping point, but it's also clear the story at large is still unfolding—at two and a half hours it feels amazingly succinct—making it a fitting parallel to the also-unresolved anger that continues to fuel N.W.A.'s relevance.