Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Lennie James
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Rating: PG-13 (US) Running Time: 2hr 18min
I came to this movie not knowing a whole heck of a lot about James Brown. I’d certainly heard and enjoyed the music, be that directly from the man himself, or from one of the hundreds of records that have sampled his work over the years. I had also enjoyed some of his cameos in movies like Rocky IV and The Blues Brothers. But where he came from and how he got to be the God Father of Soul – no idea, and I was hoping this biopic would teach me something.
So I was glad that I came away from Get On Up thoroughly entertained, but more importantly, a little more clued in to the life and times of this phenomenal performer. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of James Brown is so far the best leading performance I’ve seen in 2014. James Brown was charming, funny and a truly innovative performer, yet equally capable of being a monster. A good biopic about this man needed a stellar lead performance, and Boseman delivers.
James Brown is a complicated character, shaped by an extremely poor and abusive upbringing. Then further molded by a period in American history that wasn’t going do a man of color any favors. Yet despite all this, Brown changed popular music in the 20th century, and had a career that spanned six decades.
A great biopic about a man like this should thoroughly explore his life, while celebrating his achievements. Paint an accurate picture and not shy away from the less attractive moments in the man’s life, and do this without being the same as every other biopic ever made. Writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and director Tate Taylor have done just that. The movie moves and shakes not unlike the great man himself, and the non-linear narrative and well placed breaks of the fourth wall keep this from ever being boring.
If you’re a fan of James Brown, I think you’ll be able to accept Chadwick Boseman as your temporary Godfather of Soul, as his performance is that good. If you’re like me and didn’t know that much about this iconic performer, I think you’ll also find this worth your time. Before I saw this film I didn’t have a single James Brown track in my music collection – I’ve already rectified that huge mistake!
This is decently shot, and the performances certainly sound good over a theater sound system, so a matinée showing is recommended. At home it’s HD all the way with the volume cranked all the way up! If you do end up watching this on a laptop, tablet or phone, at least make sure you’re wearing a decent set of headphones!
Best Moment: << mild spoiler >>
During one the flash backs, a very young James Brown is blindfolded and forced to box other young kids. He’s knocked down and as he gets his bearings, he lifts his blindfold and watches the band playing nearby. As he watches, he imagines the band playing what becomes his unique signature sound.