Beats review: A story of trauma, recovery, and redemption

Netflix original movie, Beats, follows a young man suffering from PTSD after the tragic death of his sister. Music is his only outlet until it becomes much more.

Beats, a new Netflix movie that appears to be about a young kid trying to make it in the music industry from the outside, has some heavy themes.

The movie is set in the South side of Chicago and brings you right down to the street level reality in the first few minutes. While inner-city trauma movies are often a difficult watch, Beats moves away from graphic violence and becomes a story about what comes after.

I like to go into movies with a blank slate if possible and let the movie tell me what it is about along the way. I find that trailers often mislead or set expectations and that isn’t always a good way to experience a movie. In the case of Beats, I will say that it starts out rough.

Based on the early scenes, I thought I was looking at the makings of another movie about violence in the inner city and the inability to escape it but was pleasantly surprised by what came after. While the ending did feel somewhat rushed, I understood what the director and writer were looking to accomplish with the movie ending how it did.

The Story

Beats stars Khalil Everage (Cobra Kai, The Chi) as August Monroe, Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) as his mother Carla, and Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) as a former music manager and current school security guard, Romelo Reese.

August never leaves the house due to the PTSD he suffers from having witnessed the murder of his sister. His mother shelters him because of this, and her fear of him suffering the same fate. Instead, he stays at home and makes beats. His sister used to make beats and this is his way of honoring her and easing his suffering.

Meanwhile, Romelo is clearly not enjoying being a security guard. When he’s assigned by the principal, (and his estranged wife) Vanessa (Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere) to round-up kids who have not been showing up to school, he just so happens to hear August playing music. He can tell the kid is special and refuses to leave it alone. Reese, we find out, was the manager of an artist who was on the rise before being killed and has been out of the music game since that incident. We find out there are other reasons he is out of the game as well but that is a bigger part of Romelo’s story.

The story follows Romelo’s attempt to make the kid a star and to get himself back to a prominent position within the rap industry.

Why should I watch?

After getting past the tough beginning, Beats has a great story. August’s struggles with PTSD in the wake of his sister’s shooting is a side of Chicago’s violence that we haven’t really seen on-screen. We have of course seen the good kid from the bad city but not one that is having trouble coping with the trauma caused by gun violence in this way.

Aduba does a great job playing the hard-working mother who has now lost both her daughter and her husband suddenly and just wants to hang on to the only thing she has left. Her concern for August’s well-being is real and, though the outside world may not appreciate her approach, you have to appreciate the strength she shows in doing what she has to do for her son.

The movie also does a great job of covering some of the issues of living in dangerous areas in a subtle, instead of heavy-handed, way. For example, when talking about how his father died, August says that his father had a heart attack and died waiting over an hour for an ambulance. Emergency services get to neighborhoods like theirs at a leisurely pace. The movie also mentions the issue of kids not going to school in these areas and then notes several reasons why this doesn’t happen, including August’s.

With regard to the music industry side, you can tell that the writer and director understand the business. With regard to Romelo’s character having had a quick rise and dramatic fall, as well as the way things come together for August. Romelo having ties definitely allowed August’s music to catch traction faster than usual but the kid’s talent was undeniable. Without spoiling the movie, the way things play out for both Romelo and August is also typical, though not what you expect from a movie about the industry. Having established artists like Dreezy and Dave East definitely adds to the credibility in that regard.

The acting throughout the movie was good and though the run-time is almost two hours, it didn’t feel like it.

Overall

I definitely enjoyed Beats. The first 5 minutes did have me doubting where it was going but it offers context for the way the rest of the film goes for August so don’t be turned away by it. From there the movie is a great ride with some laughs, good music, healing, learning, and growth for the main characters. The end may lose some people, especially with the way Romelo approaches making some big decisions. I feel like the movie wants you to care about Romelo’s side to the story but I personally did not. It was the scenes that tried to tie up his story that make the end clunky. However, the last few minutes of the movie make those questionable scenes bearable, at least in my eyes.

Beats is currently streaming on Netflix.

PS: There doesn’t appear to be an official soundtrack available, but you can find Queen Cabrini’s (Dreezy) “Whole Lotta Love” on Youtube by searching those words. You’re welcome.

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