Short takes: Straight Outta Compton, The Gift, Mission: Impossible 5 & more

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic is an occasionally thrilling chronicle of the rise of the West Coast hip hop group that sadly devolves into brand management.  That’s to be expected when the film’s producers, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, are also two of its subjects.  Straight Outta Compton is a wonderful showcase for its three core actors (Corey Hawkins as Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father Ice Cube and especially Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E), but it could have been so much more.

Compton’s focus on police brutality is incredibly relevant, and the early scenes where the artists are subjected to violent, unwarranted stops by law enforcement are among its most powerful.  N.W.A.’s concert in Detroit, where they perform “Fuck tha Police” after being intimidated by officers before taking the stage, is filmed with undeniable urgency and energy, as is the follow-up where undercover officers charge the stage and arrest the group.

Like the other concert performance scenes, the energy of the crowd is contagious, and the movie’s biggest shortcoming is in its failure to address the female half of those excited crowds. N.W.A.’s misogyny is largely unconfronted, as is Dr. Dre’s abusive history with women.  This  has already been written about at length by people with more authority on the subject than me, but the watered down history of the movie’s second half is noticeable and hurts it.  Gray’s direction is beautiful and powerful in equal measure, and the sweeping images of ’80s and ’90s Compton — dirt bikes cruising down the street in the sunset, decked-out old cars bumping to music in the neon-colored streets, gangs uniting against police violence.  I can’t help but think there was more to tell here, though; that an unrestrained history, or even a 5-hour miniseries, would have done the story more justice.  Grade: C+

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REVIEW: The Girl

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The Girl
Directed by: David Riker
Written by: David Riker (screenplay)
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Maritza Santiago Hernandez, Will Patton and Angeles Cruz

There’s a scene in The Girl, David Riker’s ferociously personal film about immigration, that serves as a more scathing and succinct indictment of American policy than almost any news story could.  Ashley (Abbie Cornish) has recently discovered that her border-crossing semi-truck driving father (Will Patton) smuggles in illegal immigrants from Mexico with his legal corporate cargo.  The point of his character is to illustrate how corporations have an easier time crossing the border than people.

The Girl is anchored by a fantastic performance from Cornish, a mother with a son in foster care who turns to smuggling illegal immigrants across the border for extra cash.  She works at a Wal Mart-like megastore and is a recovering alcoholic, but Riker’s handling of her desperation is compassionate.  Most of the screenplay is overtly political and Riker does little formally to mask this, so it can at times feel a little too heavy-handed, but Cornish, Patton and the young newcomer Maritza Santiago Hernandez bring crucial humanity to it.

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