Sunday, August 3

Get On Up Review

Get On Up
Dir: Tate Taylor
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, Craig Robinson, Lennie James, and Jill Scott

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. His music is iconic, his personality changed the face of popular music, and his impact is still heard today, James Brown is one of the most influential musicians of all time. Director Tate Taylor, who directed last years “42” the story of another legend Jackie Robinson, turns the music up and let’s the impressive talents of Chadwick Boseman bring James Brown to life. While “Get On Up” falls into the sorts of formulaic issues biopics have a propensity of becoming, it’s difficult to keep your feet from moving as you try and keep karaoke tendencies at bay while watching Boseman’s wholehearted performance.   

Through jumps back in forth in the timeline, James Brown’s (Chadwick Boseman) life is portrayed from a young child living in poverty with parents that ignore him to the peaks of sold out concert venues. Music, the songs of his parents and gospel songs of the church that he wanders into, play important moments that influence Brown from a young age. Brown, finding the rhythms that will define his struggle and sound, is sent to juvenile corrections for stealing a suit. It’s in jail that he finds his musical companion Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) who opens the door for Brown’s future success. Brown becomes a national figure but struggles in his personal life, and with his own controlling ego, challenge his career.

Taylor begins the film with one of Brown’s most embarrassing moments, the high-speed chase from law enforcement in his latter years. Events don’t remain solemn very long as Brown is positioned in front of a microphone with a screaming crowd in front of him and one of his many classic songs to sing. It’s in these moments when the film shines brightest, but the narrative is undercut by a glaring lack of personal emotion. Brown’s childhood is terrible and Taylor emphasizes that aspect, but once Brown becomes a superstar matters get overlooked. The abusive husband Brown becomes emulates his father, but it is quickly displayed in one scene. And the relationship with his children is barely presented. While some may argue that this is suppose to be about the man and the music, it’s these other elements that add important substance to the composition of the character.

Still, it’s hard not to get pulled into this film. Taylor’s setups for the concert scenes are impressive and he effectively portrays Brown’s appealing nature through some of his most influential moments, like his participation in preventing riots in Boston after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. or his visits to entertain troops in Vietnam. But what really drives the film is the stunning performance by Chadwick Boseman who nails Brown’s performance presence. Nelsan Ellis is also good as Bobby Byrd, a nice contrast to Boseman’s big performance, which shines in the smaller moments when it’s just the two actors on screen.

“Get on Up” is elevated by good performances and effectively keeps everything upbeat by focusing on the music of James Brown. Unfortunately these positives can’t mask the narrative issues but that shouldn’t stop fans of Mister Dynamite from heading to the theater for this one.

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

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