Get On Up review

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Chadwick Boseman was only recently confirmed to be entering the Marvel universe as the emphatic superhero the Black Panther, and while such news left many a film fan scratching their heads as to who this young actor is, it should be a question that’s easier to answer when James Brown biopic Get On Up has been released; such is the sheer brilliance of the electric performance by this talented star.

Though beginning in the 1980s, in the middle of the infamous incident that landed Brown a prison sentence, director Tate Taylor then proceeds to head back in time, to catch up with our protagonist at a younger age, where he first discovered his passion for music. It was in prison where he met Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), only for the latter to generously offer his new friend accommodation upon his release. From there the pair went on to form a band, helped along by manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), leading to an array of hit singles. But it was as a solo artist that Brown made a real name for himself, much to the disdain of his former band members. They weren’t the first this elaborate musician left dismayed either, as his rise to the top was one not only born out of an immense, raw talent; but a healthy dose of ego and eccentricity.

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This overstated, surreal piece of cinema revels in frivolity, being a picture that has a tone akin to the performer himself: unpredictable and unhinged. It makes for a wildly entertaining movie, especially since our entry point is in Brown, who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. This technique works effectively, allowing us to see events unravel from Brown’s perspective. It’s undoubtedly a biased account, as we celebrate the musician’s artistry and carelessly disregard some of his more reprehensible actions in the process. Though usually this is something to avoid in the biopic genre, and something many filmmakers are guilty of, in this case it adds to the atmosphere; as we aren’t quite sure what, or who to trust, while we – like so many of Brown’s associates – fall for his charm and persuasive nature, only to enter helplessly into this world of delusion.

We require a strong leading performance for this approach to work, and Boseman excels. He’s charismatic and over the top, and because of this we fully believe in the role. The very same actor triumphed when playing Jackie Robinson in 42 too, proving that no matter how tough a task that lies ahead, and how significant a figure he is left to embody, he can leave with his head held high. Marvel have acquired a gem.

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