By Sandra Kraisirideja
Pulsating with the same infectious energy that personified James Brown’s music, director Tate Taylor’s “Get on Up” is a wonderful homage to the man who came to be known as The Godfather of Soul.
Brown passed away in 2006, but he continues to influence musicians and performers today and the movie makes it easy to see why.
“Get on Up” captures Brown’s electrifying dance moves and powerful vocals by recreating a number of groundbreaking concerts including, the dazzling Apollo Theater concert of 1962, the game changing throw-down on the T.A.M.I. Show filmed in 1964, the historic Boston Garden gig of 1968 and the full on funk of the Olympia theatre concert in Paris in 1971.
Adding to the authenticity of the performances is Brown’s own voice, which is heard during the concerts as well as the instrumental performances of his band members.
The biopic unfolds in a nonlinear style that allows James Brown to speak directly to us and tell his story. When Boseman first looks at the camera the effect is both jarring and acceptable. It works because it fits Brown’s personality of a larger-than-life entertainer who broke the rules because he didn’t know they were there to begin with. When Bozeman talks to the camera it let’s that part of Brown’s personality come through.
The film jumps around to different high and low points in Brown’s six decade long career. Born in 1933, Brown lived through every political, social and cultural milestone of the 20th century but the film keeps historical references at a distance save for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tonally the movie keeps things light, despite Brown’s dire upbringing and troubles later in life. “Get on Up” is more a celebration of his life than an examination of any dark demons he may have battled.
Chadwick Boseman, who was so effective as Jackie Robinson in “42,” gives another solid performance as a larger-than-life personality and African-American icon. In order to play Brown from a teenager to his 70s, Boseman wears a series of wigs and heavy prosthetic makeup. Fortunately these do not take away from his performance.
Adding to Boseman’s incredible performance is the work he did with choreographer Aakomon Jones. He is able to emulate Brown’s siganture moves effortlessly.
Nelsan Ellis gives a standout performance as Bobby Byrd, a fellow musician and lifelong friend of Brown’s. He will certainly be seen in more movies after this role.
Other key supporting roles are filled by Taylor’s fellow collaborators from “The Help,” Oscar® nominee Viola DAvis as Susie Brown, James’ mother, and Oscar® winner Octavia Spencer as his Aunt Honey. Allison Janney also has a brief role as a racist tourist staying at the same hotel as Brown.
Rounding out the cast are Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart, Brown’s longtime manager and agent; Craig Robinson as Maceo Parker, Brown’s lead saxophonist in The Famous Flames; Lennie James as Joe Brown, James’ father; and Jill Scott as DeeDee, Brown’s second wife.
Behind the scenes Taylor recruited many key members of his team from “The Help.” They include cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt who does a fine job capturing the different eras in the movie and shot the concert footage in a way that helps it pop off the screen.
Production designer Mark Ricker and costume designer Sharen Davis also help set the mood for the different time periods
Taylor has created a satisfying biopic that honors Brown’s musical legacy and is entertaining to boot.