‘The Get Down’ Netflix Review
The Get Down Part One is set in late 1970s Bronx. Arson, drug lords, murder for hire, corrupt politicians, junkie music producers all fill up the background of this world, but it the story of Ezekiel (Justice Smith) and his circle that propels the story.
In the opening 90-minute episode The Get Down creates its world. Disco, Star Wars, archive footage of ‘70s New York, Ed Koch, and leisure suits abound to bring the audience into a decade that, while not being too long ago, feels like a different universe. For all the world-building and the effort that goes into trying to make this feel like a historical drama, there’s whimsy and fantasy in spades.
That fantastical feel is all due to the creator Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann is the writer and director of popular films like Moulin Rouge!, Strictly Ballroom, Australia, Gatsby, and what clearly had great influence over The Get Down, the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet (the one with DiCaprio and Danes). Luhrmann’s films are often flights of fancy with tenuous grips on reality. They move like stage plays and are broken into clear act one, act two, act three partitions. At any moment the audience expects a song and dance number to break out, maybe Ewan McGregor will pop up, no one knows.
This trend continues in The Get Down. While the subject matter is deadly serious, the story is ultimately about the love Ezekiel feels for Mylene (Herizen Guardiola), and the steps he takes show he is the right man for her. In Shakespearean manner though, his actions are influenced by outside sources, family drama, and friends with good intentions gone terribly awry.
Ezekiel and Mylene helm the story, and the actors wonderfully portray their parts as young people keeping hold of their dreams in dark times. Alongside them are friends like Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks), Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.), Yolanda (Stefanee Martin), Regina (Shyrley Rodriguez), and Marcus (Jaden Smith), trying their best to help their friends. For the most part the friend characters exist to keep Ezekiel and Mylene’s story moving, but the young actors are delightful in their roles.
With the movie starring child characters, the world would not be complete with some adults messing everything up. Enter Jimmy Smits. Smits plays Franciso Cruz, Mylene’s uncle and local political figure. He’s central to creating opportunities for Mylene and Ezekiel, but is motivated by greed for power and money. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad’s best villain) is Mylene’s zealot preacher father and generally just a bad person. Kevin Corrigan as Jackie Moreno finds heroin and tries to ruin Mylene’s plans. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a presence as Cadillac, the club-owning drug dealer trying to impress his mom, Fat Annie (Lillias White), and not doing very well at the task.
The Get Down does not work without the presence of Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), Ezekiel’s mentor and guide in the burgeoning underground hip-hop scene. Shaolin is a myth turned flesh, full of drive and passion that the directionless Ezekiel needs to see. Ezekiel learns from Shaolin how to chase a dream, and turns that learned drive into a way reach his ultimate goal of impressing Mylene.
The cast holds this show on their own. The story, while very interesting and well thought out, cannot find itself. The show moves from wanting to be presented as a stage play to being heavy cinematic drama to whimsical and never really picks what it wants to be. Apparently the series took years to complete and went through some on-set shake-ups before release which certainly contributed to a feel of “too many cooks in the kitchen” for the final product.
Aside from the direction flaws, the show is immense. Entertaining, bewildering, depressing, there is quite a lot packed into part one of the series. By the end not only will you plead for part two to be available, but you’ll be wanting to listen to Run-DMC and bingeing on Grand Master Flash for weeks on end.
The Get Down is immersive, well acted, and challenging. Direction never found solid footing though, holding back the production ever so slightly.