Blu-ray Review: The Defiant Ones

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Director Allen Hughes' The Defiant Ones is a four-part miniseries charting the career paths of music producers Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Unfolding at breakneck pace, Hughes traces each man's early life and keeps going right up until they become business partners. Their business is headphones, Beats By Dre specifically, and as The Defiant Ones opens the partners have just struck a multi-billion dollar deal with Apple.

But the series, which runs about four hours and 20 minutes total, is not about business nearly as much as it's about music. Iovine quickly moves up from humble beginnings as a budding rock producer, working with everyone from John Lennon to Tom Petty to Stevie Nicks (with whom he carries out a personal relationship as well, some of the details are charted here). He builds his reputation as a hit-maker with the likes of Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith—each of whom participated in the documentary. Also involved are later discoveries like Gwen Stefani, who speaks about essentially owing her career to Iovine.

Dr. Dre (born Andre Young) is seen as a young DJ and emcee, eventually breaking through to stardom with hip hop group NWA. Dre cohorts Ice Cube, The D.O.C., Snoop Dogg, and many others sit for interviews and share recollections. Dre's own rapping career took an eventually backseat to discovering new talent, the biggest one being Eminem (also present as an interviewee). Dre's mother is a significant part of the series, commenting about her "denial" of her son's controversy-spiked early musical years and eventual wonderment at his breakthroughs as a billionaire success story.

As an ode to the music industry, The Defiant Ones begins as a celebration of the art of music and gradually becomes a full-on embrace of decidedly capitalist, monetary triumphs. That may be off-putting for some, but at least it appears to be an honest portrayal of both Iovine's and Dre's goals. Despite their differences, both men grew out of very modest, working-class backgrounds to become dominant figures in their field. Perhaps most of all, The Defiant Ones paints a portrait of what the magical combination of talent and truly dedicated hard work can result in under the right circumstances.

Rock fans will likely gravitate to the Iovine side of the story, while hip hop fans will naturally be more vested in Dre's segments. But Hughes keeps the pacing taut as he weaves back and forth between their initially unrelated careers. More musically open-minded viewers won't be deterred by the often tangential and wildly-varied scope of the documentary.

Universal Home Studios' Blu-ray offers solid A/V specs, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that presents the film's frequent musical soundtrack showcases with room-shaking bass and great clarity. However, those wanting a closer look will undoubtedly be disappointed by the two-disc set's complete lack of supplemental features. All that is presented are the same four episodes that initially aired on HBO. Well worth the viewing time, even in stripped-down presentation.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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