Get On Up (2014)
Cast includes: Chadwick Boseman (42), Nelsan Ellis (The Help), Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), Viola Davis (Doubt), Lennie James (Snatch), Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Screenplay: Jez Butterworth (Fair Game), John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game)
Director: Tate Taylor (The Help, Winter’s Bone)
Genre: Biography | Drama | Music (138 minutes)
“They got no accountability,” James Brown exclaims. It’s 1988 and he’s brandishing a rifle making threats and scaring people half to death. “Get on up. I ain’t gonna hurt you. You saw an opportunity and you took it.” James remembers a time he saw an opportunity and took it… 1968, the hardest working man in show business meets LBJ and asks to entertain the troops in Vietnam. “We got to bring funk to the cats in Vietnam.” When Brown and the band arrive at Bearcat… landing with one engine on fire, they are asked to keep the show to 25-30 minutes. “Hold on… You don’t tell James Brown when, where or for how long I can be funky!” In a flashback to 1939, we see Brown with his mother… she used to tell him he wasn’t hungry. It’s the spirit inside, tickling you.” Eventually we’ll see the rest… the abusive father, the house of prostitution where he was left, the church where he first heard gospel… and the 5-year prison sentence for stealing a 3-piece suit.
In 1964, his group, the Famous Flames, shared a stage with the Rolling Stones. “They want the Rolling Stones to close the show,” the promoter tells them. “Rolling Stones ain’t even had a hit record yet. In a year, no one will even know who they are.” But the “audience is full of white folks,” so Brown turns the stage over to the unknown British band. “Welcome to America,” says Brown. In flashbacks, we see how James Brown took advantage of an opportunity to share a stage with Little Richard and later got some career tips. “You’re going to meet the devil… he’s a white man in a fancy suit. You gonna have to be ready for him, James.” When James gets his first shot at recording a record, Ben Bart has to convince Syd Nathan that Brown and the group are worth recording. “There’s no song, no verse,” says Syd as James is howling, “Please. Please. Please.” But Ben knows Brown has something indescribable.
You’d think Brown would have been happy just to be working, but he has different ideas. “We the show… you the business,” he says to Ben. No, that’s not the way it’s gonna work. Ben knows Brown is the real deal and decides to let Brown call the shots. For years, Ben’s gentle guidance eases many rough patches, because Brown certainly isn’t the easiest person to deal with. Get On Up captures the creative genius, the hard work, the hard times, as well as the times we aren’t sure Brown is totally sane. The story is artfully crafted, blending Brown’s childhood memories with his peek career and difficult later years. In this way, the film maintains the energy that James Brown was known for, without getting mired down in the troubles. The script, music and production are all excellent. The entire cast is excellent, but Chadwick Boseman’s performance as James Brown is nothing short of astonishing… the look (excellent make up), the speaking voice, the movements, the dancing… as well as the acting. Bobby Byrd, who helped James get his start, is often the recipient of verbal abuse, but his view is, “Every man in this band walks tall because he’s with James Brown.” It hurts deeply when Byrd finally tells Brown… “James Brown don’t need no one.” It’s true… but not entirely.
4 popped kernels
The life and career of James Brown, the hardest working man in show business
Audience: Young Adults & Grown-ups
Gender Style: Bold
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Tempo: Zips Right Along
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: James Brown
Language: True to life