Two Men, One Dream
Only 50% of people who listen to music get goosebumps. Fewer still understand the transformative power music has and the positivity it can inspire in people. When it comes to Hip Hop, the genre feels like its been tarnished with a reputation for gangsters, guns, sex and drugs. Of course, for those who “feel” the music, hip hop runs a lot deeper than those surface-level lyrics and as Netflix’s latest inspiring drama shows us – music has the power to positively affect change. Despite some lacklustre hip hop tracks and some clumsy dialogue, Beats gets its themes across nicely and delivers them through dual stories that intertwine perfectly.
Haunted by the ghosts of his past after his sister was shot dead in the streets, recluse August Munroe spends his time working on music in his room while his Mum holds down a full-time job and hands in his homework to school. Concerned with attendance records and with the threat of being laid off an ever-present danger, high school teacher Romelo does the rounds to get kids back to school until he happens upon the musical talent of August. From here, the story then sees the two come together, as August tries to shake his PTSD following the shooting while Romelo confronts his past as a disgraced music producer. As they create music together and enter this dog-eat-dog world, they both grow and learn from one another.
Although the focus will undoubtedly be on August, given his talent for producing a hip hop beat in a matter of minutes, the film itself is as much to do with Romelo as it is August. These two storylines do feel a little jarring at times, especially if you go into this expecting an uplifting film about finding your voice akin to something like Whiplash (which remains one of the best music-dramas out there). However, seeing the struggle these two characters go through and the way they both help one another, Beats really finds its rhythm by the chemistry and journey these two share rather than the hip hop they produce.
There’s some lovely juxtapositions with the music too, spilling over from the opposing character viewpoints. Hearing the soulful Latin beats while August envisions gunshots or the dreamy, melodic jazz during the tense confrontation outside the house involving the police are perfect examples of this and really illustrate the power music can have. These moments in particular really signify how much August himself needs music to get through his ordeal. There’s some lovely bouts of editing here too, especially with the rapid-firecut early on and some of the zoom shots and camera swings to the beat of the music. It’s a small touch but one that’s very welcome here.
Beats isn’t perfect. There’s some pretty obvious product placement with the Beats by Dre headphones that August wears most of the time and some of the expository laden dialogue feels a little clunky. With the exception of a heartfelt teary-eyed speech at the end, the final act of the film feels a little flat too, lacking the suspenseful climax one might expect from this genre.
If you can suspend your belief with some of the lacklustre hip hop beats which, if I’m honest, are hardly world class, and take to the drama between the two lead characters then Beats makes for a very enjoyable watch. There’s a consistent pacing to this one and the little stylistic ticks do well to give the film an energetic flair throughout its run-time. It may not have the best soundtrack, and fail to live up to the musical power of something like Whiplash or 8 Mile, but Beats’ positive message that hip hop can inspire rather than destroy is reason enough to give this one a go.
Verdict - 7.5/10