GET ON UP || 2014, USA / UK || Biopic || Directed by – Tate Taylor / Produced by – Brian Grazer, Mick Jagger, Tate Taylor, Victoria Pearman / Screenplay by – Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Steven Baigelman / Music by – Thomas Newman / Cinematography by – Stephen Goldblatt / Editing by – Michael McCusker / Starring – Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer / Running time: 139 mins.
Music biopics, more than other types of biopics, have a tendency to be all too sympathetic towards their leading characters. The task of obtaining rights to the music would be far too arduous otherwise. And what is the point of making a film about a music icon when you do not have the right to play any of his songs.
Director Tate Taylor at least tries to cast some shadows on the private figure of James Brown in a number of ways. Firstly, the film’s structure is nonlinear, this establishing a less passive relationship between the film and its audience. The film even opens with an unfavourable Brown anecdote, as he has an altercation in a strip mall he owned, accidentally shooting a rifle he was holding. Get on Up also does not shy away from suggesting Brown’s domestic violence, although the fact that it is given less attention and emphasis than the strip mall anecdote goes to show that Taylor is only willing to go so far.
As a result, in the end, Get on Up is a predictable celebration of the “Godfather of Soul.” This is also what makes it work; the celebration is not only of his age defining music and incomparable stage personality, but also of James Brown the Civil Rights Movement figure. By way of illustrating the cultural setting of the time, Taylor also focuses on the Civil Rights era and the struggle for racial equality in the United States.
Chadwick Boseman plays James Brown, a difficult role indeed for which he is excellently cast. Boseman committed to the role by learning the moves, dance moves included, and doing a little singing of his own on the movie. – 3/5
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