Get On Up
- James Mottram
- 17 November 2014
Exhilarating James Brown biopic featuring a barnstorming Chadwick Boseman
One word perfectly describes Tate Taylor’s James Brown biopic: funky. The ‘Godfather of Soul’ was such a force of nature, anything less than a toe-tapping, booty-shaking, yeow of a movie would’ve done him a disservice. Thankfully, Taylor (who made The Help) pulls out just about every trick in the book to bring Brown to blistering life. Offering up a jigsaw puzzle structure, he and scriptwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth throw convention far out of the window to tell the story of the 'hardest working man in showbusiness'.
Remarkably portrayed by rising star Chadwick Boseman, from the opening scene, as Brown – high on drugs – wields a shotgun, it's clear this isn’t going to soft-soap the singer. His abusive tendencies – be it beating his spouse, or berating his band members – are covered, as is his own vulnerability. Tormented relationships with his mother Susie (Viola Davis), who abandoned him when he was six-years-old, musician friend Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) and his manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) give the film real emotional heft.
Moving back and forth through the chronology of Brown's life at a dizzying speed, Get On Up takes some getting used to – particularly because Boseman sporadically addresses the camera – but the effect is ultimately exhilarating. While the film largely concentrates on the late 60s and early 70s, skipping over the ‘Living in America’ era, it does take in his late 80s decline, notably focussing on the high-speed car chase when he was pursued by police and later sentenced to six years in jail.
Boseman – who played baseball legend Jackie Robinson in '42 – does everything right. His on-stage performances, full-on splits included, are incredible (even if it’s often Brown himself we hear on the audio track). But it’s his off-stage work that’s really compelling, truly nailing Brown’s charisma, personality and vocal patterns. An Oscar nomination is the least he deserves.
General release from Fri 21 Nov.