As a wee lad I remember going to watch “Rocky IV” in the theater. As the film played my ears opened to this sound coming from a man singing a song as Apollo Creed came out for his fight against Drago. There was James Brown larger than anything on stage performing “Living in America” , making you want to get out your seat and believe in anything. That wasn’t the first time I had heard James Brown’s music, but it was the first time I had experienced it. There have been many great artists who changed music; Brown is in a class that is not very crowded, so it’s only fitting that his story was told on film.
Growing up in Georgia, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) didn’t have much. After both his parents abandoned him at different points in his life, Brown had no choice but to look out for himself. After being put in jail for stealing a suit, he meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who is at the jailhouse performing with his gospel group. Seeing there is something special about Brown, Byrd convinces his mother to let Brown come live with them, so that he can get out of jail. Brown starts to sing in the gospel group, which soon becomes R&B, and that is where the launch to stardom begins. After cutting a record, Brown and The Famous Flames get picked up by a record company and a manager named Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), who sees no ceiling to Brown’s stardom. What follows is a ride that shows the heights that Brown climbs, and also the depths at which he falls, in the journey that is his life.
No one can question the greatness that is James Brown, and after watching this film, especially James Brown. Greatness though takes a certain type of person who knows they are destined for great things and Brown knew he was. With a film like this, the music will always speak for itself, and with great music, usually a good film is not far behind. Like “Ray” before it, the story and music can only take you to a certain place, you have to feel like you are watching a documentary and not so much a movie. With “Ray” you got that, Jamie Foxx was Ray Charles, and while we had had good performances from Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash or Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, neither of those came close to what Foxx did. Chadwick Boseman knows a thing or two about playing someone famous, having played Jackie Robinson and Floyd Little, but you will only remember him as James Brown. Boseman is electrifying and completely becomes James Brown in almost every way. Director Tate Taylor used Brown’s vocal tracks, but it is all Boseman who brings Brown to life again. This is a fun film where you will find it hard to not move to Brown’s music. While the music is infectious, the story focuses on the positive aspects of Brown’s life, only dabbling in his downfalls, which doesn’t feel like the complete picture. Even with the titled story , the music and Boseman more than make up for it and will have you getting on up for this one.