Get On Up (PG-13)
Drama 138 August 1, 2014
Boseman, in this grand yet gently shaded performance, may not be playing the James Brown; he's probably playing an idea of James Brown, the amalgam of life and legend that Brown himself so carefully cultivated. But it's an idea that rings with integrity, and Boseman and Taylor touch upon many things that we know to be true. We see longtime collaborators like Maceo Parker (Craig Robinson) and Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) straining under his tyranny. We see Brown struggling with tax problems of his own making and roughing up one of his wives, DeeDee (Jill Scott) -- Get On Up isn't a hagiography.
Taylor makes some extremely smart choices: Most notably, he stops the movie's action now and then to have Boseman address the camera directly, always a risky proposition. In the first of these bracingly straightforward missives, Brown tells us, "You can bet your bottom dollar that every record you've got has a piece of me on it" -- a not-so-veiled reference to his enduring influence and to the number of times he's been sampled, illegally or otherwise. Brown's message, channeled through Boseman, is that we made him what he is today, what he continues to be from beyond the grave.