Last time Hollywood released a big budget biopic of a 60’s Soul/R&B legend, multiple Oscars were awarded for “Ray”. Will lightning strike twice with “Get On Up”, the James Brown story? Jamie Foxx won Best Actor in 2004, but I don’t see the same award being won by Chadwick Boseman, yet a nomination seems VERY likely. Chadwick is best known for his iconic depiction of Major League Baseball’s first African American player, Jackie Robinson, in the sports film “42”. Most viewers didn’t know Jackie’s personality, signature moves, and image as vividly as we do the “Godfather of Soul”. James Brown is such a memorable dancer, singer, and entertainer that any attempt to portray James will be unfairly scrutinized. Chadwick totally committed to the role and spent months studying Brown’s mannerisms and hours in the gym training his dance moves. His capture of James’ swagger, intensity, and spirit, plus that crazy pompadour keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
GET ON UP Trailer
The opening scenes flash back and forth between 1988 just before James Brown’s police chase and the 1940’s with James’ dirt poor family. Director Tate Taylor did not follow a linear pattern here, lots of decade jumping, but always keeping our attention. No matter which decade of funk we witness, Chadwick captured the look and mannerisms, but more importantly the “spirit of James Brown”. The supporting cast is top notch. Viola Davis (his mother), Dan Aykroyd (his manager), Octavia Spencer (aunt), Craig Robinson (Maceo Parker), and Jill Scott (his second wife). But the stand out performance came from Nelsan Ellis, better known as Lafayette on HBO’s True Blood, as James’ best friend, Bobby Byrd. One ultimate scene was James in the recording studio for “Please Please Please”. The stodgy older Jewish record executive kept hearing James repeating that same line and thought it was garbage. His manager said, “no, don’t just listen, FEEL what James is saying.” Like a man possessed, Chadwick oozes all of the emotion out of that scene.
CALEDONIA (Scene) – Yes, that’s Little Richard in the background!
Running at 138 minutes, “Get On Up” somehow managed to feel too long and too short at the same time. Such a big life to depict in one movie, you could almost spend the entire movie on the 60’s with James rise to fame, his Apollo concerts, and the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s death. But you’ve got to cover his 70’s Funk years, his church choir background, and the later years too. Sadly, only about 15 minutes is spent on the 80’s (no “Living In America”). We don’t learn much about spousal abuse, drugs, or James’ political views, as these are primarily hinted at but never developed. But why complain over the negatives, “Get On Up” will make you FEEL GOOD. It’s a well acted story of a true American icon who influenced everyone from the Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson.
“PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE” Through the years
SOUL POWER – James Brown 1974
OVERALL GRADE 9/10