Biopics seem to be the way to go if an actor really wishes to win an Oscar. And it may very well happen again --- this time for Chadwick Boseman, who is astonishing at portraying "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" --- James Brown.
Directed by Tate Taylor ("The Help") and produced by Brian Grazer ("A Beautiful Mind") and Mick Jagger, a long-time admirer of Brown and his iconic musical influences, "Get On Up" provides an intimate glimpse into Brown's humble beginnings through to his rise --- and fall --- as "The Godfather of Soul".
Using a narrative voice by Brown (Boseman), and a non-linear storyline, screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, who also co-wrote the story with Steve Baigelman, have constructed a multi-layered approach to this fascinating and truly gifted, hard-working singer.
Though the supporting cast, including Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, James' savior, fellow musician and long-time friend, who is also a worthy Oscar contender, Viola Davis as James' mother Susie, Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey, and Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart, James' manager and agent, is utterly remarkable, the driving force behind "Get On Up" is Boseman. Not wanting to portray another icon so close to his role as Jackie Robinson in the 2013 biopic "42", he soon came to realize what an incredible opportunity this role would be. And though the preparation was grueling, Boseman manages to capture the audacious soul --- and moves --- of Mr. Brown, as everyone on the set came to call him.
James Brown's music is like no one else's. "Get On Up" manages, brilliantly, to recreate the most memorable concerts of Brown's career, starting with the one at the Apollo Theatre in 1962, up to and including his amazing performance a the Olympia Theatre in Paris in 1971. Whatever your musical preferences are, "Get On Up" is a revelation --- and a breathtaking step back into the world of James Brown's soul.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Chadwick Boseman is about to become a household name. Last year he was effective playing baseball legend Jackie Robinson in "42". The role earned him the title of "Male Star of Tomorrow" earlier this year at ShoWest by the National Association of Theater Owners. It's time to drop the "tomorrow" because now he stars as another legend, "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown.
In "Get On Up", Boseman has gone way past "effective". He is astonishing and electrifying, and is all but certain to land an Oscar nomination for his work. If Jamie Foxx can win the Best Actor Award for the musical biopic "Ray" (2004), I see no reason why Boseman can't duplicate that honor for this film.
Mastering Brown's on-stage moves is hard enough, but to lip sync Brown's lyrics and voice so believably is astounding in itself. Boseman, at age 32, is no child star. He has years of TV and stage appearances on his resume. Now in the early phase of his film life, he may already have achieved his career-defining role.
The young James Brown (portrayed by twins Jamarian and Jordan Scott), born into poverty in South Carolina in 1933, was abandoned by both his mother, portrayed by Viola Davis, and his father. He spent time in jail as a teen, but realized his life's calling after prison when he stood mesmerized at a church gospel session. Eventually, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) would become his best friend and music partner.
Later he would join forces with Ben Bart, president of Brown's agency Universal Attractions. Bart is portrayed by Dan Aykroyd --- it his finest work in eons. Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar under Taylor's direction in "The Help", has a small part here as Brown's Aunt Honey. She runs a brothel, yet still appears to be a positive guiding figure during his youth.
I was not a huge fan of James Brown during his heyday, but that is completely irrelevant in terms of enjoying this film. Boseman's kinetic energy is sheer joy to witness. The musical numbers and accompanying choreography more than make up for slower parts of this lengthy effort from director Tate Taylor ("The Help") and producer Brian Glazer ("A Beautiful Mind"). Mick Jagger also produced "Get On Up", as Brown had a significant influence on Jagger in his early years with the Rolling Stones.
Even amid the negative aspects of Brown's life, the movie is laced with humor. Early on, Brown and his Famous Flames watch Little Richard performing on stage. When Richard's band takes a breather, Brown and his troupe grab the mic and rev up the audience to a fever pitch, as Little Richard looks on in mock horror.
One gripping scene depicts Brown at a Boston Garden concert the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Brown, at the behest of then Boston mayor Kevin White, managed to quiet the unrest of the largely black audience, and averted what could have been a large-scale riot.
Brown died on Christmas Day in 2006 at age 73, and up until his death, he was still performing, living up to his reputation as "the hardest working man in show business". Chadwick Boseman is easily the hardest working man in "Get On Up". James would have been very proud.
Opinion Strong See It Now!