Published on August 1st, 2014 | by gareth0
Get On Up
-Ian M. Woodington
After his breakout performance last year in 42 as Jackie Robinson, it’s surprising to see Chadwick Boseman so quickly throw himself into another role of significant historical importance in American culture. And throw himself he does. An award-worthy performance if I’ve ever seen one, this is a full transformation that stands among the best, whether it be Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles or more recently, Daniel Day-Lewis’ masterful imagining of Lincoln. Bold comparisons aside, Boseman all but resurrects James Brown in not just his dramatic scenes but more importantly, his scenes as a performer. This is no mere impression; no attempt at interpretation, Boseman completely channels “The Godfather of Soul” in front of your eyes to become James Brown on-screen.
But that stellar performance is unfortunately let down by a lack of cohesiveness in the editing room. Though featuring a good use of cross-cutting between major events on and off stage, as a chronological assembly would have made for a film that felt much longer, it is still in need of some work. Brown’s ego has a tendency to be over-emphasized, leading to the duplication of scenes that try to give insight into his weaknesses. A particularly interesting choice used is breaking the fourth wall. A concept that certainly makes sense for the character, it doesn’t necessarily serve the story or the film itself. It is something of an affront to the idea that film should take an objective stand rather than a subjective one and that can be tough to maintain when your main character begins talking to the audience sporadically starting somewhere around the forty minute mark. One such example that gives me pause is a moment following a scene of domestic abuse. Brown walks away from the incident and stops in front of the camera. He comes to address us but can’t, a man caught in the act and revealing a bruised ego. It is a moment that seeks to show the scared, inner child within the man, but will ultimately be duplicated, and to greater effect, during the last act of the film.
In addition, a wealth of information had to come across in such a relatively short span of time, as is the case with any biopic. The events surrounding the concert to help suppress the riots in Boston and leading up to the recording of “Say I Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” could fill a whole movie. It leads me to question why producer Brian Grazer didn’t call on someone like frequent collaborator Ron Howard who could have steered this film to a much tighter end product. Get on Up is the story of a life so important that it demanded the hand of a director who can navigate the endless pitfalls that can plague a film in the biopic genre. Taking nothing away from the seemingly insurmountable task director Tate Taylor must have felt he had in bringing Brown’s life to the screen, the surprise hit he gave us in The Help isn’t quite replicated here.
So it’s a case of a 5-star performance in a 3-star film. Great music, great acting, a lot of passion, but falling somewhat sort of realizing its potential. As Brown says to Bobby Byrd after a confrontation with the members of his band, “You’re all just along for the ride.” That is most certainly the case between Boseman and the rest of the cast and crew. I don’t want to dull their efforts, as there is some tremendous talent involved, but with a leading performance that will stand as one for the ages, everyone else really is just along for the ride.