A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from poverty to become an influential musician in the funk style, a different universe of music of the 60s but quite a bit of crossover from white audiences. James had some extremely complex moves, rivaling those of Michael Jackson, including quick-steps unique to his performance art.
Given the challenge of reproducing the intricacies of James Brown, Chadwick Boseman gets it stunningly right. Boseman looks just like James and has all the right moves (however, he did not sing). Viola Davis is incredible as his mother, a stellar performance. Brandon Smith as “Little Richard” gets a great spot. The rest of the characterizations were superb with the exception of Dan Aykroyd who sleepwalked through his few spots.
Minimized during the film was Brown’s trademark on stage collapse during the performance of “Please, Please, Please”. Brown sagged to his knees in tears after working himself to exhaustion, prompting one of his flunkies to come out, drape a cape over his shoulders and try to escort him off the stage. As Brown was escorted off, his vocal group, the Famous Flames continued singing the background vocals. Brown then ostentatiously threw off the cape and staggered back to the microphone emitting a blood-curdling scream to continue the song. He did this several times. The crowd went totally bat shit crazy.
However, the progress of the film is muddied by with repetitive flashbacks, noncontributory visual gimmicks, and vapid fantasy sequences creating a disjointed, more ambitious film than it’s ability to produce.” But watching Boseman in action simply electrifying. He doesn’t imitate James Brown, he inhabits him. He has Soul Brother #1, Mr. Dynamite, the Godfather of soul and the hardest workin’ man in show business nailed from A to Z.
Best feature: Chadwick Boseman. One can’t help but wonder if he’ll be an awards-season contender.
Not so best feature: Disjointed flashbacks to Brown’s childhood detract from the progression of events.
Notice if you’re quick: The early Beach Boys in their blue flannel shirts in a side room awaiting their performance.
Big technical mistake: one of the Famous Flames plays a Fender Telecaster several years before they were in production.
The film has some weak points but Bozemans and Viola Davis’s performances are worth the price of admission.
I give it four of five toothy refrains of “Please….Please….Please….”.
Eagerly awaited in the future: Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in “All Is By My Side”. Amy Adams as Janice Joplin in “Get it while you can”.