Movie Review: “Get On Up” Hits The Mark


Review by James McDonald

A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.

Chadwick Boseman gave a good performance as Jackie Robinson in the movie “42”, alongside Harrison Ford. That movie bombed so his portrayal as the baseball legend, for the most part, sadly went unnoticed. In “Get On Up” however, Mr. Boseman plays the charismatic and soul sensation, James Brown and thankfully, this performance will not go unnoticed. The movie tells the story of how Mr. Brown started off in a life of poverty and eventually became one of the founding fathers of funk and “The Godfather of Soul” in a career that encompassed sixty years. As the story begins, we see James as a child in the backwoods of South Carolina, being chased by his mother Susie (Viola Davis). They both laugh and race each other but things quickly change for the worst when we meet his father Joe (Lennie James), a quick-tempered and violent man who eventually causes Susie to abandon them and move to New York.

Soon thereafter, Joe and James relocate to Augusta, Georgia where Joe leaves James with a relative, Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), who runs a brothel. His father leaves and never comes back and James spends many years hustling on the streets, mainly by himself. After a brief stint in a juvenile detention center for stealing a suit, he meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) and the two men quickly become friends and eventually form the musical group “James Brown and The Famous Flames”. As the men slowly become rich and famous, their relationship is constantly tested, especially when the bigwigs at King Records exclaim that it is James who is the real star and not the group as a whole. Because Bobby trusts and cares for James, he puts his own aspirations of wanting to be a singer on the back burner and stands by James through thick and thin, never stepping into his spotlight.

However, their friendship eventually crumbles after a sold-out show in Paris in the early 70s when Bobby finally tells James that he wants to try a solo career. Instead of supporting his friend, James insults him and mocks him at which point Bobby walks out and never comes back. Mr. Brown would never again reach the heights of fame he attained early on in his career but his music would leave a lasting legacy that has yet to be matched by any other musical artist. When a movie is made about a famous person, whether they’re musicians, actors or involved in sports, there is always a certain amount of artistic license taken by the filmmakers. For scenes where the characters are exchanging dialogue in private, we don’t know if that’s exactly what was said so the filmmakers will sometimes create believable dialogue that realistically ‘could’ have materialized.

These scenes are filler until we get to the moments in the movie that we know happened: concerts, TV and public appearances and in many situations, family and friends may be involved behind-the-scenes to explain to the filmmakers, what happened here and what happened there but then it becomes a one-sided discussion and we never really know exactly how a particular circumstance transpired so for the most part, we just go along with it. The movie also touches upon certain aspects of Mr. Brown’s life that has been well documented, his love for women (he was married three times), his drug abuse and the fact that he was arrested several times for domestic violence. All of these are illustrated throughout the movie but they are quickly passed by as the film centers more on how Mr. Brown got to the top of his profession through sheer tenacity, determination and talent at a time when black people faced insurmountable discrimination, segregation and stereotyping.

The movie is filled with life and energy and the performances by the entire cast is sensational. Chadwick Boseman captures the very essence of what made James Brown a star, from his husky voice right down to his sashaying swagger and come Oscar time, I would be very surprised if Mr. Boseman doesn’t at least get a nomination. Some of Mr. Brown’s greatest hits, including the titular “Get On Up”, “Please, Please, Please” and “I Got You” are interspersed throughout the movie and they remind us exactly why James Brown and his music have become legendary.

In theaters August 1st


James McDonald
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