Based on the incredible life story of the Godfather of Soul, Get On Up gives a fearless look inside the music, moves, and moods of James Brown (Boseman), taking audiences on the journey from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.
Remember the name Chadwick Boseman, because someday he'll be as much of a household name as Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Boseman first caught my eye playing Jackie Robinson in 42 (still my favorite film of 2013), and now he impresses again taking on the role of James Brown in 'Get On Up'. Because the movie was released back in August, there hasn't been any attention thrown Boseman's way as far as awards go, but trust me when I say this is one of the best lead performances by any actor in 2014. He just doesn't play the Godfather of Soul, he becomes him.
The movie (directed and produced by The Help's Tate Taylor, and also produced by Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger) makes the smart move of not telling Brown's story in chronological order. It opens with his 1988 arrest (which would lead to several years of prison time), but then jumps all over the place in terms of chronology, yet still manages to tell a thematically linear story. We see James as a young boy, a teenager, an old man, and in the prime of his life. In every stage (except as a boy, where Brown is played by twin brothers Jamarion and Jordan Scott), Boseman is incredible, infusing each and every scene with the kind of energy that the real James Brown must have shown every time he was on stage or in a room.
The real highlights of 'Get On Up', as you may have already guessed, are the recreations of some of Brown's most notable public performances, including his famous show-stopping number at The T.A.M.I. Show, where he was asked to switch from being the closing act to the next-to-closing act, being bumped up in favor of The Rolling Stones. Instead of being stubborn about it, Brown goes out and shows the then-young band up, and even to this day the Stones admit following James Brown was the single worst decision they made in their careers.
In addition to Boseman, 'Get On Up' is peppered with a number of great character actors, almost all of whom turn in solid performances as well. The Walking Dead's Lennie James plays Brown's abusive father, while Viola Davis plays his estranged mother. Dan Aykroyd co-stars as Ben Bart, Brown's manager, while Octavia Davis plays Brown's aunt, who both runs a brothel and plays surrogate mother to James when his father dumps her off at her home. But the best performance next to Boseman's is that of True Blood's Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, the founder of Brown's first group, The Famous Flames, and perhaps the closest thing to a best friend James Brown ever had. It's their relationship – even more than the women he was involved with (Brown was married four times, although this movie only covers two of the marriages) – that is the heart and soul of 'Get On Up'.
For as entertaining as the movie is, 'Get On Up' is not without some noticeable flaws, most notably the way it glosses over the problems in Brown's life. Brown had both drug issues and could be a quite abusive husband, but you'd never know that watching 'Get On Up'. The domestic abuse issues are deal with in a single scene where Brown hits one of his wives, but it's never referred to afterwards, nor does Brown show any remorse for it. As far as drugs are concerned, we're supposed to recognize that he's under the influence during the opening scenes where he gets arrested, but any actual on-screen drug use or abuse is absent from the film. The result is a movie that tends to glorify James Brown a little more than it probably should, which actually makes it a bit lesser of a film. However, the choice not to wallow in the darker side of Brown's psyche also makes him a more likeable character, which consequently makes 'Get On Up' more of a 'crowd-pleaser' than it would have been than if the movie had spent more time focusing on Brown's shortcomings as a human being.
However, despite perhaps not being the most in-depth or honest portrayal of the man, 'Get On Up' is a rollicking piece of entertainment that is very much a love letter to the memory of James Brown. Fans of his career will love this, and newcomers to his music will come away from the movie understanding why he's considered one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Furthermore, all viewers will realize the other great talent on display here – that of Chadwick Boseman, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite leading men. I can't wait to see what he does next.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Get On Up' dances its way onto home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, with the dual-layer DVD on the inside left and the 50GB Blu-ray on the inside right. An insert contains a code for an UltraViolet and iTunes digital copy of the movie. A slightly-embossed (the letters of the movie title only) slipcover with artwork matching the keepcase slick slides overtop.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for The Scorpion King 4, 'The Man with the Iron Fists 2', A Walk Among the Tombstones, 'The Theory of Everything', Lucy, an anti-tobacco ad, and DragonHeart 3. The main menu for the Blu-ray is a typical one from Universal, containing a still of Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, with menu selections running down the left side of the screen. The DVD menu uses the same image, except that the menu selections run along the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Get On Up' was shot digitally using Arri Alexa equipment, which leads to an excellent transfer on Blu-ray. Tate Taylor's movie is quite colorful throughout, and this disc provides a good rendition of those colors – each one standing out, but never being oversaturated or prone to the 'bleeding' effect. Since many of the performance scenes take place in darkened clubs or arenas, black levels are always a concern. While they're not quite 'inky' deep here, they are well done, with little evidence of crush. Detail is wonderful, and the image has a wonderful depth to it throughout. Skin tones can occasionally lean to an orange hue (particularly in some of the flashbacks to James' younger days), but overall they are consistent, although perhaps a little too detailed as the age makeup for the older version of Chadwick's Brown is sometimes evident and less lifelike than one would hope.
Overall, this is a great looking transfer that falls just short of being a reference-quality one. However, the flaws here are so few, it's hard to imagine anyone will be upset with the visual experience they'll have watching 'Get On Up' on Blu-ray.
As one might expect, the English 5.1 DTS-HD track provided here really comes to life during the movie's many musical numbers. There's a clarity and distinctness to almost every instrument being played, and James Brown's voice even sometimes echoes to one of the rear speakers, particularly when he gives one of his patented yells or screams during a performance.
Otherwise, though, the track seems a little more muted overall. Most of the dialogue is front and center, and while it comes to life during those musical segments, it never gives that 'immersive' feel one looks for in most of the other scenes. The balance here, however, is well done, and even those big stage numbers never feel significantly louder or more aggressive than the rest of the movie's audio track.
In addition to the 5.1 DTS-HD lossless track, 5.1 DTS Digital Surround tracks are available in Spanish and French, and an English Descriptive Video Service track is also available. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Chadwick Boseman gives one of the best performances of 2014 playing James Brown in 'Get On Up'. While the movie itself sugarcoats much of the dark aspects of Brown's life and career, there's little doubt that Boseman is simply electric in the role. As music biographies go, this may not be the best of the lot, but it sure is one of the most enjoyable to watch. Highly recommended.