Review: ‘Defiant Ones’ dives into story of Dre, Iovine

Two music industry giants and their pursuit of perfectionism shapes massive HBO documentary

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic

A sense of ruthless, dogged determination runs through “The Defiant Ones,” the engrossing documentary that tells the dual stories of Interscope Records founder Jimmy Iovine and hip-hop pioneer Dr. Dre.

On the surface, the pair don’t have much in common: Iovine is an Italian street kid from New York, Dre is an African-American from a rough neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. But both are driven by an otherworldly work ethic, and “The Defiant Ones” shares the story of how their unlikely partnership — beginning in the early ’90s when Dre signed to Interscope and continuing through the headphone brand they founded, Beats by Dre, which eventually signed a monster partnership with Apple — altered the course of the music business forever.

Recorder producer and rapper Dr. Dre, from left, filmmaker Allen Hughes, and Interscope Records co-founder and producer Jimmy Iovine.

Iovine and Dre are such titanic figures that their stories are not just their own: Iovine’s intertwines with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, U2, Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt and Lady Gaga, while Dre’s helped shape Ice Cube, Eazy E, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and the entirety of West Coast gangsta rap. (Most of the aforementioned parties appear as talking heads.) It’s too much to cram into two hours, and “The Defiant Ones’” massive four-and-a-half hour running time — HBO will air it in four parts, beginning Sunday — feels not only appropriate, but earned.

Director Allen Hughes, one-half of the Detroit-born Hughes brothers directing team, lays out the two narratives in parallel fashion. Similarities immediately emerge, mostly stemming from each individual’s steadfast persistence. The anecdotes are priceless: Iovine once called TVT Records’ Steve Gottlieb every day for a year to try and get Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor out of his record contract, without having ever met Reznor.

The doc’s third installment focuses on the controversy Interscope courted in the 1990s through button-pushing acts like Marilyn Manson and Dre’s tumultuous gangsta rap label Death Row Records. It’s the most explosive entry, showing how Iovine placed himself at the center of a veritable culture war. The closing chapter, at times, feels like an infomercial for Apple Music (which netted Iovine and Dre a cool $3 billion when it took on the duo’s Beats Music streaming service), but “The Defiant Ones” remains essential viewing for any fan of popular music. It shows the power of friendship, partnership and the relentless quest to be the best.

(313) 222-2284


‘The Defiant Ones’


Not rated: Language and sexual situations

9 p.m. Sun.-Wed., HBO