Get on Up is the latest Hollywood biopic and this one follows the life and times of the godfather of soul, the hardest working man in show business, James Brown. He is played brilliantly with great energy, enthusiasm, and electricity by 42’s Chadwick Boseman, who also played Jackie Robinson. He IS James Brown and he is the lifeblood of the movie. Every moment he’s on screen, you are captivated by his performance and what he brings to the table. While he doesn’t sing the original songs himself, as he is lip synching, he does bring the dance moves and overall essence of James Brown to the big screen.
Many critics have commented on the PG-13 rating of Get on Up and it does hold the film back. While James Brown was an incredible talent and one of kind artist, his story deserves a hard R rating. It should feel like a down and dirty gritty biopic. Instead, at times, it feels more like a made for TV biopic that plays it a little too safe and doesn’t take enough chances. If you are really going to tell his story, you have to let it rip and not hold back whatsoever. It’s only doing a disservice to his life and what he accomplished.
The film also suffers from one too many flashbacks. It would have been better served to start from the beginning and let the story unfold from start to finish. Instead, we get scenes from the present and past intertwined and it sort of took me out of the story. I would have rather seen him grow up as a boy and turn into James Brown instead of seeing him as James Brown one minute and then a poor boy the next minute without a mommy or a daddy. It bounces back and forth between the two far too often.
However, as stated above, the work of Chadwick Boseman is what makes this a good film and a film worth watching. It is a good film, but not a great film. Again, it plays it too safe and when you have someone as dangerous, over the top, and unique as James Brown, you need to let that shine through in the story. I wasn’t crazy about the Help and this film comes from the same director of The Help, Tate Taylor. It’s a crowd pleaser and it might even get Chadwick an Academy Award nomination, but there is so much left off the screen.
In the end, though, I give this film a recommendation because of Chadwick Boseman only. It’s simply stunning to see him on screen as James Brown. From the voice, to the makeup, to the outfits, he gets every part of this right. I can’t imagine any James Brown fan being upset with his performance. The film itself is a different story. It runs at over two hours, and at times, it drags, I must say. It doesn’t feel like a well oiled machine. Overall, Chadwick Boseman is giving in a great performance in a good movie. He deserves better and so do we.