A piece of magic happens in this music biopic, in which Chadwick Boseman 100 percent inhabits the role of soul star James Brown: the mysterious man behind the legend comes through with heartstopping electricity. Boseman has the moves, the splits, the hip-swivelling attitude – but he also has a frenetic hummingbird in his voice box (unavoidably, he’s lip-synching on some songs). The 37-year-old actor leaps fearlessly into Brown’s ego, his eyes burning behind the mask.
The challenge here, assumed with confidence by director Tate Taylor (‘The Help’), is in making a compelling story about a man who turns himself into an island. The movie gives its subject not the usual strong-willed love interest, but a fellow traveller – the classic hype man Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who learns to dim his own star to make way for Brown’s fiery comet. These self-denying scenes are awful to watch, yet fascinating, as are the band’s rehearsals, complete with Brown’s notorious fining of his musicians for unfunky mistakes.
The film’s missteps are few: concessions to a genre that always seems to require a raging bull in a jail cell. Still, so much of ‘Get on Up’ is uncannily perfect, from its nightmarish Georgia childhood flashbacks to delirious concert recreations and the casting of Dan Aykroyd as Brown’s long-time manager, who grabs the whole of the movie in one moment on a private plane. You have to see this.