Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Michael Moore Says Clint Eastwood Threatened To "Kill" Him 10 Years Ago, Calls 'American Sniper' A "Mess" Michael Moore Says Clint Eastwood Threatened To "Kill" Him 10 Years Ago, Calls 'American Sniper' A "Mess" Woody Allen’s Next Movie With Joaquin Phoenix & Emma Stone Titled ‘Irrational Man,’  Sony Pictures Classics Nab Rights Woody Allen’s Next Movie With Joaquin Phoenix & Emma Stone Titled ‘Irrational Man,’ Sony Pictures Classics Nab Rights Paul Thomas Anderson Says 'Edge Of Tomorrow' Is "F*cking Great," Also Loves 'Grand Budapest Hotel'  Paul Thomas Anderson Says 'Edge Of Tomorrow' Is "F*cking Great," Also Loves 'Grand Budapest Hotel' 10 Unaired TV Pilots By A-List Directors That We Want To See 10 Unaired TV Pilots By A-List Directors That We Want To See The 10 Best Films Of 2007 The 10 Best Films Of 2007 'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans 'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners Watch: Tom Hardy & Gary Oldman Face Off In The First Trailer For Thriller ‘Child 44’ Watch: Tom Hardy & Gary Oldman Face Off In The First Trailer For Thriller ‘Child 44’ Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Review: 'Get On Up' Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis And Octavia Spencer

The Playlist By Kimber Myers | The Playlist July 30, 2014 at 2:18PM

“You cats ready?” Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown asks the audience, breaking through the fourth wall, early in “Get On Up.” It takes a lot of confidence for a character (and a filmmaker) to take this direct approach. The asides to the camera would feel forced if the biopic were covering almost anyone other than the Godfather of Soul, but it works well in this film.
2
Get On Up

“You cats ready?” Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown asks the audience, breaking through the fourth wall, early in “Get On Up.” It takes a lot of confidence for a character (and a filmmaker) to take this direct approach. The asides to the camera would feel forced if the biopic were covering almost anyone other than the Godfather of Soul, but it works well in this film.

Get On Up

Directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), the film bounces between various periods in the singer's life, beginning with a latter day instance of Brown’s antics in 1988 as he berates a woman for “drop(ping) a brick” in his bathroom in August, Georgia. The narrative jumps to 1968, then to 1939 and beyond. The audience gets a glimpse of young Brown and his difficult home life with his argumentative, absent mother (Viola Davis) and abusive father (Lennie James). Abandoned by his parents, he is raised in a brothel by Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), and it is there where he gets a taste of the gospel style that would influence his own music. 

While in prison for a relatively minor crime, Brown meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who gives Brown a home and a place in his singing group, which Brown later rechristens The Famous Flames. In the film, Brown’s relationships with his parents and his wives take a backseat to this central friendship that guides Brown both personally and professionally. Byrd stands by Brown through The Famous Flames and through the next several decades of his career.

Get On Up

At its best, “Get On Up” has the energy of a great concert film, and seeing Mick Jagger's name as a producer isn't a shock. You won’t be alone if you’re moving in your seat during the musical performances peppered throughout the movie, whether it’s a “live” performance, or simply Brown singing a cappella. Boseman impeccably recreates Brown’s dance moves, and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt’s camera makes it clear that the actor does not have a double for the more challenging steps early on in the film. The songs feel timeless, regardless of when they fall in Brown’s career. Whether you think you’re a JB fan or not, there’s much to like and recognize here. As Brown asserts in the film, he’s been sampled and copied by numerous artists, but “Get On Up” is a great reminder of –or introduction to– one of the most original American musicians of the past century.

The team behind “Get On Up” has worked to assemble a great cast, including many actors who should be getting plum gigs in Hollywood, like James, Jill Scott and Craig Robinson. Ellis falls into this category, and with “True Blood” playing out its last season, it would be great to see him playing more varied roles. Davis and Spencer are given relatively small parts, but they’re unsurprisingly terrific at playing two of the central female figures in Brown’s young life.

Get On Up

It's still early in Boseman's career, having carried only this and “42,” but he hardly breaks a sweat capturing Brown's epic energy and bravado. He doesn't resemble JB consistently in the film, but his physicality imbues his performance with genuine feeling unlike, say, an impression along the lines of early '80s Eddie Murphy. We’re eager to see what he does next.  

"Get On Up" doesn’t shy away from some of Brown’s worst moments, including domestic abuse and mistreatment of his band members. But it also doesn’t dwell on them either; the camera cuts away or a wall obscures our view of a particularly troubling scene involving an altercation with one of his wives. In some ways, we dislike Boseman’s character less than we might, particularly since the aftermath of that fight isn’t emphasized, and it thus feels like a bit of a cheat on the filmmakers’ part. However, the film offers additional insight into the struggles Brown encountered as a black musician in the ‘60s and ‘70s, sometimes with an ironic nudge and a little humor.

Get On Up

Unfortunately, “Get On Up” is at its least successful in its final act, clouding some of the film's early successes. The aging makeup isn’t entirely believable, and there are obvious attempts to  create additional sympathy for Brown’s character in his later years.

Taylor is a talented Hollywood-style filmmaker, and the movie should play well with most audiences. It’s challenging to give a full picture of a decades-spanning career, but a number of elements feel like afterthoughts or remnants left from a longer cut of the film. Despite these problems, it’s a crowd pleaser of a film, whose powerful musical moments can overshadow any smaller issues within the film. [B]


This article is related to: Review, Reviews, Get On Up, Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates