’Tis the season to be funky.
Get On Up is a handsome biopic directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), which charts the rise of soul brother James Brown against a backdrop of civil unrest.
Thirty-two-year-old rising star Chadwick Boseman achieves a startling transformation to convincingly portray the musical legend across five decades that defined the face of multi-cultural America.
As a boy growing up in 1940s South Carolina, James (Jordan and Jamarion Scott) witnesses violent clashes between his parents. Consequently, his battered mother (Viola Davis) walks out, leaving James with his hotheaded father (Lennie James).
The old man delivers the boy into the care of Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), who runs a brothel.
Under her tutelage, James (now played by Boseman) attends church and develops his passion for music in the choir, before meeting Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis).
They form a rhythm and blues vocal group called The Famous Flames and sign to King Records.
Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) becomes James’ manager and pushes the flamboyant showman to the fore at the expense of the other members of the group.
Get On Up is reminiscent of 2004 film Ray, which netted Jamie Foxx an Oscar for his portrayal of rhythm and blues legend Ray Charles.
We are treated to historical footnotes about Brown’s well documented social and political activism, including his 1968 concert at Boston Garden following Martin Luther King’s assassination and a visit to Vietnam to support US troops.
Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s fragmented script feels emotionally underpowered. However, concert sequences are electrifying, including a recreation of a 1971 gig in Paris that sees Brown whip the audience into a frenzy.
Boseman is super good, capturing the impetuosity and unerring self-belief of the Godfather of Soul from age 16 to 60.
Aside from Ellis’ strong turn as best friend Bobby Byrd, supporting performances are largely overpowered by Boseman’s dazzling theatrics. On celluloid as in life, Brown refuses to be upstaged.