The opening scene gives you the feeling you’ve seen this before. High school kids out late at night in a bad neighborhood. Specifically, the Wild 100s, Roseland, Chicago, the gun violence capital of the world. But you haven’t seen this before. In fact, this is a gem of a movie hiding in plain sight. Director Chris Robinson covers all the bases without being formulaic. It’s gritty and realistic but you never feel like he’s painting by numbers.
As far as titles go, Beats is metaphoric. It speaks not only to the shared passion of the main characters, but also to the unique life cadences of all the principles, and the staccato rhythms of gun fire and police sirens that is the soundtrack for the grim neighborhood we only leave once. In this sense the title itself takes on a leading role.
Newcomer Khalil Everage, convincing as a budding hip hop savant, is wounded in a gruesome, senseless murder and develops ptsd. While watching the world go by from his perch in his living room he soothes his pain in the mesmerizing beats he creates. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the moments when slowing things down can help maximize good decision making. This idea, and the characters’ encounters with it, provides the tempo for the movie.
Everage and Ashley Jackson are compelling as they try to find puppy love in a school culture where funerals are more common than school dances. Emayatzy Corinealdi (Miles Ahead) reminds us that not everything or everyone in the hood is broken. Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) brings pedestrian pathos to her turn as the long suffering mother trying to hold onto what’s left of her shrunken brood. But it’s Anthony Anderson (Blackish) who carries the film and makes us believe that he really was about that life.
Beats is mesmerizing. You won’t be able to get it out of your head.