Anna Mae Bullock is a woman that has been screaming music from the top of her lungs since she was a child. Music kind of sprung from her like an unstoppable force of nature, one that was almost squashed out by her abusive and often domineering husband. When we first meet her, she’s a young girl in a church who is escorted out for literally singing her own tune with the choir. When Ike Turner first meets her, Anna Mae, soon to be Tina Turner, belts out music that even shocks Ike Turner to his core. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is the compelling, and often shocking story of Tina Turner and how she rose to fame in spite of the abusive and violent ownership of her husband, musician Ike Turner.
“What’s Love Got To Do With It” is a powerhouse of a drama packed to the brim with great performances, especially by Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, both of whom present a chemistry that’s hypnotic and cringe inducing. Fishburne as Ike is a seductive presence, but he’s also an ultimately slimy one who takes great pleasure in hurting women to establish his dominance. One of the most infamous moments finds an increasingly irritated coked up Ike sexually assault Tina for offering criticism of his music. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is mostly a female empowerment drama about how Tina endured through the pain to belt out some classic music, and also learned how to find power through her religion.
Bassett’s performance is unparalleled, as she throws herself in to the role, not just taking on the skin of Ms. Turner, but also presenting her in shades of empathy that may prove surprising to the audience. The writers depict Turner as someone whose inner spirit was under attack by Ike, who viewed her less as a collaborator and more as a threat, the more she took center stage in his band. From the moment she whips out “Proud Mary,” it becomes Ike vs. Tina. Brian Gibson’s biopic is surprisingly tasteful and bereft of exploitation, turning Tina’s plight as an abuse victim as an actual circumstance where people genuinely suffered, take one moment when Tina’s small son’s witness Ike striking and victimizing Tina.
One of the turning points in the film, is also one of the finest moments of acting and choreography as Tia and Ike’s violent confrontation in a limo leads a well documented incident of a battered Tina arriving at a hotel begging for a room with only 32 cents in her pocket. It’s a harrowing journey, but it’s also ultimately entertaining, riveting, and depicts one of the rare cases where an abuse victim not only survived her ordeal, but came out of it a better person.