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Get On Up


Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Octavia Spencer, Jill Scott, Aunjanue Ellis, Tika Sumpter, Lennie James

Director: Tate Taylor

We're running through a season of movies with terrible, hard-to-remember titles, and this serviceable biography of James Brown, the 'godfather of soul', is up there with the worst. Boseman is sensational as Brown himself, and Ellis also very good as his long-serving (and -suffering) colleague Bobby Brown, but the film itself is a routine musical biopic with rather unimaginative re-creations of Brown's best-remembered songs and stage routines.

The narrative, as is the fashion these days, dashes back and forth between various segments of Brown's life. When we can keep track, we see the impoverished childhood in a shack, soon deserted by both father and mother (although the kid playing Brown looks a lot more than six), the prison sentence for stealing a suit (he also steals shoes from a suicide) and the meeting with the group headed by Byrd, for whom, now renamed the Famous Flames, Brown quickly becomes the frontman.

We briefly glimpse his sex life and two wives and his alienation of most of his friends and backing musicians, albeit supported stalwartly by his agent, a white man, Pop, nicely played by Aykroyd, with whom he gets on better than anyone.

It's an adequate tribute to a towering figure of popular music, but no more, directed by Tate Taylor (who made The Help) with an almost complete lack of flair. Boseman's impression of Brown, though, is a tour-de-force, down to the screeching vocals, athletic moves and charisma on stage - even if it's doubtful if many of today's generation (at least in the UK) will have heard of this music colossus.

David Quinlan

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by FotoKem.
139 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 18 Nov 2014