Get On Up – Review
The feature film “Get on Up” is both the title of a popular 1960’s R & B song as well in large measure the resolving theme of the life of the Godfather of soul James Brown. And unless you were born just this very moment or you have been stranded on a remote island for the last 50 years you should know who James Brown is. If you are still not sure, then you undoubtedly you have heard his music as it has been sampled numerous times by countless Hip Hop and Pop performers over the past 2 decades.
“GOU” is directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), Executive Produced by Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and stars Chadwick Boseman (“42”). It is essentially a biopic linear tale about James’s desperate childhood of illiteracy, depressing poverty and the affecting circumstances of his parents being equally fraught with behavioral dysfunction to his eventual escape from these mired circumstances ascending to legendary musical heights garnering national fame, financial success, cultural prominence and social relevance.
There is nothing new in “GOU” that was a revelation to me that I hadn’t already heard or not chronicled in some form before his death in 2006. The central component of the film makes the concerted effort to thrash out the more intimate details of the personal relationships in James’s life, especially the two closets friends he had during his career. One being his Business Manager Ben Bart (Dan Akroyd) and the other with his very close longtime confidant Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis (aka “Lafayette” on “HBO “True Blood”).
While Director Taylor seems to be determined to tell everything that happened to James he also tries to do it all way too safely; as there were way too many scenes that felt either rushed or simply shorten if you will, almost skimming right pass over some real significant events and subjects that could and should have been probed much further. Taylor also didn’t do the viewing audience many favors by his many random disjoined and unpredictable flash backs scenes to James’s formative youth. These flashbacks never seem to offer up anything in the story’s connectivity, leaving me a bit confused as to what Taylor was really trying to convey about some pivotal area in James’s life. Finally, Taylor also needlessly injected very sporadically James Brown voice over scenes where he begins talking directly to the viewing audience. In my estimation and for all practical purpose these voice overs offered only some benign conversations about some benign matters that were very low on the relevance meter to the film’s story itself.
Biopics are hard to do because they invariable squeeze 75 years’ worth of information into 2 hours and therefore as a film subject they require lots of discipline in editing and tight story construction. Director Taylor seemed to lack enough discipline to make “GOU” feel like one intact film. The movie had some editing moments that felt more like a myriad of “acting pieces” and “scene bits” that were simply strung together in the effort to tell everything for such a broad life’s story. But even with these directing technical flaws exposed, the real shining treasure for me that brought “GOU” across the finish line was the stellar performance by Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. Boseman is the incarnate of James, literally channeling every fiber and essence of his being ranging from the body posture, his speaking voice and the very spirit and persona of the man itself. Boseman brings an incredible array of acting skills to bare showcasing the young charismatic James as well as the more reflective aging man.
Fact is, Boseman is the real reason to watch this film as he gives it his all in making us recall James Brown in such vivid clarity and rich detail that you are almost left feeling he is still alive. And along with a revisit of some of James’s original and great music tracks in tow, Boseman’s mastery of recreating all of the facial expressions, dance moves, grunts, and even the singer’s sweat, in my opinion were flawless and should be something worthy of a possible Oscar Nomination for Boseman as Best Actor next January 2015.
Overall, “GOU” is entertaining and holds your attention each minute throughout the 2 hour 10 minute viewing time. But when it’s over you don’t really remember very much about any particular scene or event in James’s life, you do however remember the genius of James’s music, performances, legacy and relevance. You also remember the acting prowess of Chadwick Boseman who brings “GOU” all together to viewing life and fabulously so.
3 – 1/2 Stars