Lime Review - Screen
Get on Up
The funkiest film of the year! Biopics are tough to pull-off at the best of times, and when they are based around larger-than-life characters like James Brown, you are going to need something very special to keep audiences interested.
'Get on Up' has two fantastic trump cards to play, a phenomenal central performance and inventive direction from the start. This combination gives a breathless quality to the film, leaving you feeling elated and exhausted, as if you've just seen the great man himself perform a virtuoso set.
Of course it helps that the music produced by 'The Godfather of Soul” is so infectiously energetic, but that only adds to the expectations we have. In addition, although he lived an extraordinary life, James Brown wasn't directly involved in any incidents that we aren't already fully aware of, so where to take this journey? The answer is to make the journey itself feel fresh and original. The standard structure of such a Biopic is thrown out, an opening scene where Brown fires off a shotgun when he finds out someone has been using his personal toilet sees to that.
It's also a great way to meet Chadwick Boseman, the man charged with bringing Brown to the screen. He throws himself into the action, earning not only Oscar-buzz but also a whopping multi-picture contract from Marvel Studios to take on the role of comicbook hero 'Black Panther'. Boseman will have to undergo a physical makeover in order to bulk up for that part, here he plays the wiry Brown who describes himself as “Skinny but Strong”.
Once the film introduces Brown as a man past his prime, in the late-eighties following years of success and the trappings that go with it, we are thrust back to the start of it all. Young James lives in a shack with his mother (Viola Davis) and father (Lennie James). It's a miserable existence with poverty a constant cause of misery to the family. Eventually his mother leaves, forcing his father to dump the boy with a distant aunt who runs a brothel. This tempestuous start in life gives James the fire we see in his adult years, but at first it is directed not in music, but in breaking the law. Brown finds himself in prison as a juvenile, salvation coming from the unlikely source of Bobby Byrd, a man who would go on to become a life-long friend and confident.
The film jumps back to the early years, with twins Jordan and Jamarion Scott playing the young James Brown. The pair are fantastic, bringing a lot of heart and soul to the origins of the man we later see on stage.
The clever structure employed by director Tate Taylor (who previously made 'The Help'), means that the film can go back to dramatic moments much as we would do ourselves when thinking back on our own lives. The flow isn't chronological, but natural... much like the funk music Brown is famous for. The fourth wall is torn down early on, and we get some great moments thrust in our faces as Boseman struts his stuff to great effect.
The darker aspects of Browns life are left in the film. They aren't given centre-stage, nor should they be. Domestic abuse and the crippling use of drugs are there for all to see, but we aren't given the option of judging. This is the way it should be in a biopic... additional research should be your next objective when leaving the cinema, if you feel like you need to critique the man and not the film.
What we get instead is the funkiest film of the year. Time flashes by so quickly, that you will want to go back and watch it again as soon as it's finished.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Ackroyd & Viola Davis
Release date: 21 November