Beats brings hip-hop with a positive message

Netflix release is a lacklustre Whiplash, but still entertaining

Anthony Anderson, left, in a scene from Beats. Photo courtesy of Netflix

To some people, hip-hop gives the impression of an outcast music genre that has been tarnished with a reputation for gangsters, guns, sex, drugs and violence. But for those who can really feel the music, hip-hop runs much deeper than those surface-level lyrics, and isn't any different than other types of music that gives people true inspiration and hope in their lives.

Despite some slow-paced, lacklustre dialogue and a halfhearted ending, Netflix's Beats director Chris Robinson has managed to get its themes across nicely with an inspiring little tale of overcoming tragedy, hope and redemption built around the power of music.

Not to be confused with this year's British 90s rave film also titled Beats, this is a coming-of-age-drama set in Chicago, and centres around the life of a reclusive teenage musical prodigy who forms an unlikely friendship with a troublesome high school security officer through their mutual love of hip-hop.

Haunted by the ghosts of his past after losing his sister to gun crime, August Monroe (Khalil Everage), a high school student who's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is unable to shake the traumas of witnessing his sister's murder. He kept himself at home working on music while his overbearing mother Carla (Uzo Aduba) holds down a full-time job and hands in all his homework to school.

Then there's a fallen-from-grace music manager-turned-high school security guard Romelo Reese (Anthony Anderson) who discovers August's talent as a hip-hop beatmaker while tracking truant students. He sees the boy as his return ticket back into the game. And from there, we see the two come together, creating music. They both grow and learn from one another as August tries to overcome his fear while Romelo confronts his past as a disgraced music manager.

Beats is set in a black neighbourhood where gun crime is the norm. Robinson does a fine job at setting the right atmosphere, and it's a set-up that tries to inflect the fledgling-musician format with the vibe of a sports movie akin to Whiplash. The director also throws in elements of an after-school special, and even a high school romance.

The soundtrack is quite well done. If you appreciate music, especially hip-hop, then the film should encourage you to understand the message it's trying to convey.

But apart from that, Beats is lacking a real hook, with the slow pace and quite predictable rise-to-fame plot we've seen before. Some of the expository-laden dialogue feels a little clunky, and there's also a lack of momentum in long stretches that keep the story off balance, or at least implausible.

The ending of the film feels a little flat too, lacking the proper climax one might expect from this genre.

But if you can look over those flaws, and appreciate the drama between August and Romelo, and the struggle these two characters go through and the way they both help one another, then Beats makes for a fairly enjoyable watch as it keeps driving forward in a nearly two-hour story that is rarely boring.

Ultimately, Beats is entertaining enough, but like many Netflix offerings can feel inconsequential. But with the film's positive message that hip-hop music can inspire is reason enough to give this film a try.