GET ON UP
A chronicle of James Brown's rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
Review by Louise Keller:
If it sounds good and feels good, play it, says James Brown, breaking every rule in music as he did in life. Produced by Mick Jagger, the film is dynamite, portraying the explosive life of James Brown, Godfather of Soul, whose raucous, unbridled energy, audacious look and unique voice excited the world through a career bridging six decades. From a creatively structured screenplay by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, director Tate Taylor delivers a knock-out film in keeping with the spirit of James Brown himself: unpredictable, passionate and edgy with a career-making performance by Chadwick Boseman. As for the music - it is impossible to sit still as the rhythms pound, the sound soars and that distinctive scream of the man himself saturates the air.
Like Taylor Hackford's film Ray (2004) which won an Oscar for Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles, Get On Up canvasses the deep crevices of Brown's life (1933 - 2006), albeit not chronologically. It's an interesting structure in that the tough early years that clearly provided the mould for his strength and independence, are spliced at different times into the narrative, keeping us constantly on edge, never knowing what the story of James Brown is likely to dish out next.
The film begins with a high-pitched squeal from a man with big hair and fancy footwork. He is singing on stage, immaculately dressed in a loud red suit. It's quickly followed by a patchwork of images and sequences showing that the colour and frenetic persona is not limited to the stage.
Taylor's direction is filled with bravado, changing moods and sensibilities as it captures the drama, pathos, humour (with comic touches) and exaggerated Brownisms. Of course in the early years, as an impoverished, abused child deserted by his mother (Viola Davis, moving), the mood is sombre and poignant; the emotions in the scene towards the end of the film when his mother comes to Brown's Brooklyn dressing room after the show, is as raw as it gets.
But there are many other revealing and touching aspects, including the influences of gospel, Brown's friendship and musical partnership with Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis, sympathetic) and the early years as part of the group The Famous Flames. I laughed in the scene at the hairdressers when Brown insists that hair must rise up to the Lord like a flame (reinforcing their name), beginning his trend of outlandish hairstyles to match the wardrobe of gold lurex jumpsuits, gaudy suits and ostentatious stage gear. From the start, Brown knows exactly what he wants and is not shy to let the world know: be it the sapphire blue suit for the show or control of the business at a time when the creative and business sides never met. (Dan Aykroyd plays Brown's long-suffering manager.)
Look out for the wonderful scene in the recording studio as Brown throws his soul into the song Mr Please, Please, Please, while the conservative record executive throws a hissy fit because 'there is no verse and no snappy chorus'. Equally unconventional is Brown's relationships with women. There is volatility, violence and extreme passion.
Boseman inhabits Brown from the inside out as he delivers a performance of a lifetime. It feels as though we are watching James Brown himself, foibles and all. Ultimately it is all about the music and the unrestrained joie de vivre that finds the spot like a potent adrenalin hit that shoots straight into the soul. I Feel Good, he sings.... So do we.
Email this article
GET ON UP (TBC)
CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer, Erica Huggins, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman
DIRECTOR: Tate Taylor
SCRIPT: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen Goldblatt
EDITOR: Michael McCuster
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Ricker
RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 30, 2014