Everyone has a favourite James Brown song, no matter what age you are..sometime in your life you’ve heard a James Brown song, snapped your fingers, tapped your foot, danced, sang with it..however you did it, it’s resonated with you.. Or you’ve seen Mick Jagger, Prince, Morris Day, Michael Jackson or Axl Rose perform and realized where they got their moves from. James Brown is a legend, no question about it. So let’s just get it right out now.. This is not your typical biopic. It starts off with an older James Brown, in his 60’s when he was a bit worn down as let’s face it..he wasn’t the most stellar of human beings, definitely had his faults and dare I say it..absolute shady-ness when it came to business practices, the law & his wives. And he had ego..oh so much ego and referred to himself in the 3rd person..a lot.. But if you were the ‘hardest working man in show business’ I guess you deservedly can at least have some of all of these.
The first 15 minutes or so of the film was hard to follow as it moves all over the place from Brown’s regretfully sad childhood, being left by both parents “Joe & Susie Brown” (Lennis James, Viola Davis), whom you don’t see much of or get to know much about, to being left at and growing up in a brothel ran by “Aunt Honey” (Octavia Spencer), to young James Brown just realizing his talent where it would take him in life, to older James Brown and many different places in his life in-between. If you’re looking for a linear, chronological order story of James Brown’s life, this film has no interest in giving you that. It’s all over the place in time, which again, difficult at first, but once you get used to how it gets scattered all about, you can concentrate more on the performances, most especially Chadwick Boseman as “James Brown” completely amazing transformation into Brown from 16yrs old, getting arrested & sentenced to 5- 13yrs in the old Jim Crow days of a Georgia prison for stealing a 3-piece suit, all the way on through to a 63yr. old James Brown walking solo down a hallway into a concert venue of screaming, cheering fans, makeup transformation complete. But it’s not just the makeup that makes Boseman into Brown..It’s the embodiment of everything that is, was, and could ever be James Brown that makes it so remarkable. He’s got the moves, the body language, the accent, the facial expressions, all of it…down pat ~ he is to sum it up ~ BRILLIANT in his performance.
While Boseman also gave a good performance in “42” as Jackie Robinson, the 1st baseball player to cross the racial barrier lines of the National League of baseball, this movie never really hits on racism to much, as you know Brown had to have experienced this as it was part of the times back then, and they do refer to him trying to get off the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ or when he runs into a young “Little Richard” (Brandon Smith) they term the word ‘white devil’ as Brown refers to his manager, “Ben Bart” (Dan Aykroyd) calling him that, though the love & respect he has for the man is also clearly shown & apparent, this movie isn’t much to do about that. One pivotal scene in 1968 let’s you know how much Brown did help out by making the mayor of Boston, during the race riots of that year, to let him do his show and just as things are starting to get out of hand with fans jumping on the stage, police throwing them off, Brown stands up to let the audience know to make it about the show. Also apparent throughout the movie is just how big Brown’s ego was, as he’s knows he is destined to be great, all the while being verbally abusive to those around him, in great supporting cast roles, such as his best friend “Bobby Byrd” (Nelsan Ellis) & bandmates “Maceo Parker” (Craig Robinson) “Nafloyd Scott” (Aloe Black), “Pee Wee Ellis” (Tariq Trotter) in making them do long rehearsals on days off, not paying them due to his well-known tax problems, making sure they know he and only he, is the boss by detrimentally having each of them answer a silly question about how each instrument that they play, no matter what it is, is just really meant to only serve as percussion. And though they skip over much of it, his physical abuse of his wives,”DeeDee Brown (Jill Scott) girlfriends etc. until they finally leave him..
So while this story being told with plenty of holes in it, the main focus is the music.. the music ..the music..and all the while Chadwick Boseman is just giving it to you at 150mph and you won’t forget it. If for any reason at all you’re not a James Brown fan, which could be understandable due to he was a man with many faults, see this movie for this amazing performance alone.
I was treated to a wonderful Q & A afterwards with Producer: Brian Grazer, Dir/Prod: Tate Taylor (an old friend)m and the man himself, Chadwick Boseman, who btw received a standing ovation from the audience.. I love hearing the thought process, and time frames (10yrs) that it took for this movie to get made. They started it with James Brown himself, and after he passed it was dead in the water so to speak, luckily enough, Mick Jagger obtained the music rights to his catalog and the rest as they say.. is this movie! 😀
Grade: C+ – for the movie itself B+ for the performance of Chad Boseman
Grading scale: A = Oscarworthy; B = Above Average – must see; C = Average – should see; D = Don’t waste your time or money; F = Yeah, no don’t see the movie. (+ or -) give it a bit up or down