Entertaining Netflix film Beats dodges typical music drama clichés

A disgraced former music manager in Chicago’s South Side wants to put an agoraphobic hip-hop beat-making prodigy under his wing in this Netflix drama. Though it doesn’t rise above typical straight-to-Netflix films, Tony Stamp says there’s enough here to entertain those who are interested.

Periodically throughout Beats, the lead character loses himself in the music he’s making, his surroundings fading to black as his problems seem to disappear. It’s a familiar feeling for any keen musician, and it’s one of several details in this Netflix drama that ring true.

It surely helps that director Chris Robinson has been making music videos for the last two decades. Setting your film in a musical scene runs the risk of it feeling false, but Beats is familiar enough with the culture that none of it plays too goofily.

Anthony Anderson plays a down-on-his-luck former manager who stumbles across Khalil Everage’s amateur beatmaker, suffering from PTSD after seeing his sister gunned down. It’s a setup that tries to inflect the fledgling-musician format with the vibe of a sports movie, where Anderson’s grizzled industry veteran has one last shot at redemption. Robinson also throws in elements of an afterschool special, and even a high school romance.

If this is Anderson’s shot at a late-career turn to dramatic roles, it’s a good one: he carries his character’s world-weariness well and never overplays it, even when the script gives him a line like “All it takes is one good song”. Everage fares slightly worse in a role that asks a lot, dealing as it does with trauma and mental health, but he’s endearing, and good at selling the musical stuff.

Beats is entertaining enough, but like many Netflix offerings can feel inconsequential. There’s never much doubt how events will play out, and getting there is pleasant enough but not overly inspiring. It’s nice to see a musical film that dodges clichés (although it does rub up against a lot of them), but this is more of an interesting b-side than a Top 10 single.