James Brown was a troubled, talented and fascinating man who had a pretty crazy life that was ripe for cinematic adaptation after his relatively recent passing. The Help helmer Tate Taylor brings him to multiplexes in an energetic, fun couple of hours that nonetheless isn't without its darker scenes.
Opening in 1988 with one of his more, er, eccentric moments, the film then moves back to his troubled childhood, but that's as linear as it gets. Get On Up doesn't really have flash backs, more random, but monumental moments from his life placed throughout its two odd hours; his trip to Vietnam during the war, a stint in jail and the relationship with Ben Bart are all explored with ample screen-time. While there's always room for one of his blistering live performances.
A biopic about the Godfather of Funk was never going to work without a lead capable of embodying his electrifying persona. Chadwick Boseman is about to become a star (he's Marvel's titular Black Panther), and on the basis of his work here it's pretty easy to see why. He is superb; managing to portray both a younger and older Brown with aplomb, while also mimicking his searing stage work to a near inch of the man. The movie is worth seeing for his performance alone.
But thankfully that's not the only good thing about Get On Up, as it lifts the lid on Brown in an honest but entertaining fashion. He was a man who had an exceedingly tough early start and one who was not easy to be around at points it seems. But Taylor manages to avoid delving too much into the darker elements of his life by continually breaking up proceedings with musical numbers. Brown belted out some absolute classics in his time, and that timeless sound translates wonderfully to the big screen.
The occasional breaking of the fourth wall doesn't quite work and the structure is a little disorientating at times, but this is still a toe-tapping blast and a fascinating look at an inherently seminal artist and man.